Friday, February 28, 2014

The Sundance Kid

There is a valid explanation for why things have been quiet on the blog of late…and if anyone’s up to mailing it in to me, I’ll gladly spring for postage.  All seriousness aside, I had a couple of Radio Spirits projects that needed my immediate attention, plus I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort to turn in reviews at ClassicFlix in a timely manner; two of the recent “oldies” that I’ve watched are Union Depot (1932—a great little pre-Code) and Private Hell 36 (1954), which you can access by clicking on the links.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to watch as many films as I can that I’ve recorded on the U-Verse DVR. (I’m starting to think that it might not have been the best idea, from a productive standpoint, to bestow one of these gadgets upon the House of Yesteryear.)  Ever since U-Verse came in like a thief in the night and yanked our Encore package I’ve been clearing the Encore movies off the thing…though since that channel doesn’t letterbox a great many of their offerings, this didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would.  I’ve actually gotten better regarding their pan-and-scan presentations (I don’t sulk nearly as much as I did in the past), but I do have to draw the line on occasion: for example, Encore-Suspense aired a French film at the beginning of February that’s been on my radar for a while, With a Friend Like Harry (2000)…yet when I finally got around to peeping it I noticed within minutes it was the dubbed version, so I quietly eliminated it from the DVR.

(Also, too: Sundance aired The Ides of March [2011] a couple of weeks ago, and when I tried to watch this Wednesday night this is the message that greeted me before the movie unfolded: “The following film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen, to run in the time allotted and edited for content.”  Oh, I’m so sorry…but thanks for playing our game.  We have some lovely parting gifts for you, including a home version of Ivan Watches Fairly Recent Movies.)

Both Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) recently turned up on the Encore Action channels and I sat down with them because I had a rather fuzzy memory of the two features; I knew I had already seen them (probably rented them from Netflix when I still had the service), and while I remembered most of the first film some of the stuff in the second was foreign to me.  (I think I might have dozed off during Vol. 2 the first time.)  I’m not a slavish Tarantino disciple yet I enjoyed both movies; admittedly, I’m more partial to the earlier entries in his oeuvre, like Reservoir Dogs (1992).  I also recorded The Dead Zone (1983) from Encore Suspense; for some odd reason I thought I had seen this one but as it turned out I had not (I read the book, which might be why I thought I had).  One of the better movies taken from Stephen King novels, in my opinion.  Also from the Encore menu:

The Human Stain (2003) – An adaptation of the Philip Roth best seller that stars Anthony Hopkins as Coleman Silk, a professor and dean of a small liberal arts college whose career crumbles before his very eyes after he’s accused of making racist remarks in the classroom.   His wife Iris (Phyllis Newman) dies shortly after the scandal unfolds, and Coleman blames her passing on the stress caused by the events; he befriends an author, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), and asks him to write his story while at the same time Coleman’s beginning a relationship with a young woman Fauna Farley (Nicole Kidman).  Their affair comes under fire from Fauna’s ex (Ed Harris), a mentally unbalanced war vet, and the disapproving faculty members from the college.

My interest in Stain was piqued a while back when I perused an article at Salon addressing the controversy as to whether Roth based the Silk character on Anatole Broyard, a one-time New York Times literary editor—I won’t go into the full details on Broyard for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the novel or film (because it’ll give a lot of it away).  After watching the movie version, however, it sounds like the book might be better; I’ll throw in with the majority critical opinion that the film doesn’t quite gel because of the miscasting of the leads (I wasn’t able to invest any interest in the relationship between Hopkins and Kidman, a major portion of the plot).  I’m not sorry I spent time with Stain, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone since it really didn’t work for me.

We Own the Night (2007) – Joaquin Phoenix is Bobby Green, a young man who manages a New York City nightclub for a Russian furrier named Marat Buzhayev (Moni Moshonov)…though Bobby’s actual last name is Grusinsky (the “Green” is his mother’s maiden name)—he keeps that on the QT because he doesn’t want his friends or the people who employ him to know that he’s the son of a NYPD deputy chief, played by Robert Duvall.  Bobby’s brother Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) is also a cop, and has recently been promoted to captain; when Bobby stops by to celebrate his bro’s rise in the ranks—accompanied by his girlfriend Amada Juarez (Eva Mendes)—he’s told by the Grusinsky clan that they’ve got their eye on Buzhayev’s nephew Vadim (Alex Veadov), a drug lord who’s planning on bringing in a bodacious shipment of product…and they want Bobby’s cooperation, since Vadim is a club regular.  Bobby says “Include me out”—but when Joe is nearly brought down in a shootout involving Vadim’s mob, our hero has a change of heart and agrees to help trap him by infiltrating his set-up.

This first-rate suspenser was written and directed by James Gray, whose previous films Little Odessa (1994) and The Yards (2000) are also crime tales set in the Big Apple; stars Phoenix and Wahlberg appeared in Yards, and Night was a labor of love for the two thesps, who produced the film.  I’ll watch Duvall in just about anything, so I was already pre-sold on this one going in; I also enjoyed seeing the late Tony Musante in a small role (Musante was in Yards as well).  If you’ve watched as many crime thrillers as I have you’ll figure out the “twist” halfway through but it’s still a journey well worth your time.  (And I say this as someone who just doesn’t care for Wahlberg, whom I still haven’t forgiven for Good Vibrations.)

The Sundance Channel (now calling itself SundanceTV) was a once-proud cable offering whose schedule featured truly independent films; I watched quite a bit of it when I still had a DirecTV system during my years of exile in Morgantown, WV and half of the movies they ran I had never even heard of (though this is not to say I didn’t enjoy them).  Sundance was bought out by the AMC/IFC folks in 2008, and sadly this means that they now interrupt their flicks with commercial breaks as well as larding up their schedule with “original series” (they also have about six or eight hours of Law & Order running every day—I still haven’t been able to figure that one out).  The movies appear to be uncut and intact for the most part (that Ides of March thing must have been an outlier) and the next batch of films were watched either on Sundance or sister IFC (which I remember its glory days as a commercial-free channel as well).

From Hell (2001) – I tried to talk Mom into watching this one, a horror film-police procedural based on a graphic novel series (I remember when we called these comic books) by Alan Moore (who later disavowed the film version, calling Johnny Depp’s interpretation of the inspector an “absinthe-swigging dandy”) and Eddie Campbell…but she’s more intractable on matters cinematic than I am, and she has a hard-and-fast rule in that she will not watch anything Depp is in.  (Which probably explains why she still hasn’t opened The Lone Ranger [2013] DVD she got for Christmas.)  I’m not necessarily down with Depp either (I find him a little too precious) but I can’t deny that this is one of his better showcases; he’s a psychic cop investigating that bit of unpleasantness involving Jack the Ripper, with Heather Graham as a “bangtail” (slang courtesy of Robbie Coltrane, who’s aces as Depp’s sidekick) what’s caught his eye.

True to its graphic novel origins, From Hell is in-your-face flashy and the Brothers Hughes (Albert and Allen, the auteurs who brought you Menace II Society [1993] and Dead Presidents [1995]) occasionally overdo it with the stylistics…but despite Depp and Graham (the actress’ appeal has always eluded me, and she’s a little too beautiful to be a prostitute) I thought the movie was pretty solid even though the identity of “Springhill Jack” kind of stretches credibility a tad.  (Not to give too much away, but I also liked how the plot of From Hell is similar to 1979’s Murder by Decree, which pits Sherlock Holmes against the Ripper.)  Coltrane is great, and you’ll never convince me that Ian Richardson (who starred in the British version of House of Cards) didn’t read the first few lines of his character’s part (as Depp and Coltrane’s superior) and declare: “Henry Daniell, I should think.”

Batman Begins (2005) – More comic book…sorry…graphic novel cinema as Christopher Nolan reboots the Batman franchise with Christian Bale as The Caped Crusader in a movie that was summed up by the better half of my BBFF Stacia as follows: “It wouldn’t stop beginning!”  I don’t regret watching this but it really wasn’t my cup of tea—it’s way too long, and crammed with stunts and noisy explodiations where stuff blows up real good.  Michael Caine was funny.

The Wackness (2008) – High school grad Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) starts dealing drugs to earn money for his financially-strapped parents; his father (David Wohl) has botched a financial deal and the family is in danger of being evicted.  Luke has also struck up an unlikely bond with therapist Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley) who counsels him in exchange for weed; their friendship, however, is jeopardized by a romance between Luke and Squires’ stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby).

This loosey-goosey coming-of-age comedy-drama really struck a chord with me; I liked Peck’s performance as the seemingly-stoned and vulnerable Luke, who’s sincere about his attraction to Thirlby’s Steph and is unaware that she’s going to break his heart.  (I also giggled because he sells his wares out of an ice cream wagon—that’s the way Cheech & Chong would have done it…) It’s an unpretentious debut effort from writer-director Jonathan Levine, who populates the movie with likable characters (even the ones who do unlikable things) and threads the film with a memorable hip-hop/rap soundtrack.  I enjoyed the eclectic casting in this one, too: Jane Addams as a reclusive client, Mary-Kate Olsen (how rude!) as a hippie, Method Man as Luke’s connection and Famke Janssen as Kingsley’s wife (the two of them are having marital difficulties not unlike Luke’s ma and pa).  See this one if you get the opportunity.

The Informant! (2009) – Kurt Eichenwald’s nonfiction book about Mark “Corky” Whitacre, an Archer-Midland-Daniels exec who brought the lysine price-fixing conspiracy to light in the 1990s by ratting out the company to the FBI, becomes an absurdist satire in the hands of director Steven Soderbergh.  Matt Damon plays Whitacre, a whistle-blower who seems to be doing the right thing by tattling to the Feds but later turns out to have a few skeletons in his own closet.

Soderbergh’s decision to play a lot of the events detailed in this movie as comical is an interesting one only because what happens with ADM and Whitacre isn’t all that funny; still, it’s undeniably entertaining despite Damon’s character being a bit of a cypher (his stream-of-consciousness monologues are hooty).  The most enjoyable aspect is that Soderbergh cast a lot of stand-up comedians in major and minor roles: Joel McHale (pre-Community), Allan Havey (haven’t seen this guy since he appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show many moons ago) and Paul F. Tompkins are FBI agents, and Patton Oswalt and Rick Overton are also on hand.  Best of all: the presence of Tom and Dick Smothers (though they’re cast in separate roles in the film).

A Single Man (2009) – Before winning his Best Actor Oscar for The King’s Speech (2010), actor Colin Firth got a nod the previous year for his amazing performance as the titular character in a film based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel.  Firth plays George Falconer, a British university professor struggling to deal with the death of his architect lover Jim (Matthew Goode)—as a day in his life unfolds, memories of his life with Jim are presented in flashback while Falconer seriously contemplates committing suicide.

As the description probably tips you off, this is not particularly a “date movie”…but this quiet, penetrating film rewards those who are patient with important lessons on living life to the fullest.  Directed by former fashion designer Tom Ford, Man nicely captures the feel of Southern California circa 1962 and features first-rate turns from Goode, Julianne Moore (as Firth’s longtime gal pal) and Jon Kortajarena as a hustler Firth encounters outside a liquor store.  But it’s Firth’s performance that makes this one so heart-achingly good; he lost to Jeff Bridges (for Crazy Heart) but just between you, me and the lamppost he was robbed.

Margin Call (2011) – Writer-director J.C. Chandor won the Independent Spirit Awards’ Best First Feature prize (as well as the Robert Altman Award) for this treatise on the early days of the financial 2008 financial crisis; an investment bank (unnamed in the film, but my money’s on Lehman Brothers) is downsizing employees, including the exec in charge of risk management (Stanley Tucci).  Tucci hands one of his people (Zachary Quinto) a USB drive as he’s going out the door, telling him it’s a project he’s been working on…and the curious employee soon learns that the company’s over-leverage in M.B.S. (mortgage-backed securities) is going to send the firm on a runaway bobsled to Hell unless a plan of action is put into effect by the higher-ups.

Margin Call accomplishes the impossible: it generates suspense from a situation involving the employees of an institution that I normally would have greeted with complete ennui (“Members of the one-percent shitting their pants about a potential financial crash for which they’re responsible—let me check the Care-O-Meter…”).  That’s not to say that Call doesn’t have its defects; if you have Kevin Spacey on hand, why you would want to make him the “good guy” is beyond my comprehension.  (Because I’ve also seen the first film in the Star Trek reboot, I have trouble thinking of Quinto—also one of Call’s producers—as anybody but the young Mr. Spock.  “Set phasers to sell!”)  Jeremy Irons is amazing as the CEO who’s rather nonchalant about the possibility of torpedoing the world economy, and there are also fine performances from Tucci, Simon Baker (as The Mentalist, shouldn’t he have seen this coming?), Paul Bettany and Demi Moore.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) – I’ve saved the best for last: actress Elizabeth Olsen won critical plaudits for her phenomenal performance as the title character—a vulnerable young woman struggling to make peace with her sister (Sarah Paulson) when she moves in with sis and her new husband (Hugh Dancy).  She’s not told either of them why she’s been off the grid for two years; she fell in with a group that informally call themselves “The Family”…and while you can take the girl of the cult, you can’t necessarily take the cult out of the girl.  The experience has left some serious psychological scars on Olsen, and jeopardizes her new life with her hosts because some serious delusional paranoia has started to set in.

I almost didn’t sit down with this one because I mistook it for a Woody Allen film by the title; “Martha” is the real name of Olsen’s character, “Marcy May” and “Marlene” aliases she uses with the group she’s staying with (a cult that’s more Manson than Moonie).  Martha Marcy May Marlene is the powerful first feature written and directed by Sean Durkin (he won a Best Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Festival), who got a bit of criticism from the late Roger Ebert for his use of chronological shifts (the film goes back-and-forth from present-day events to those that happened in the past)—“In a serious film, there is no payoff for trickery.”  I say bah and feh—Durkin’s use of the device just serves to heighten the film’s brooding paranoiac despair, and while some may not take to the movie’s depressing tone it’s one of the most emotionally rewarding I’ve seen in quite a while (the fact that the estranged Martha and Lucy are simply unable to connect will gnaw at you).  The ambiguous ending to the film is the perfect capper.

Before I return to the screening room for more movies, I thought I would mention another blogathon that’s on the horizon: The Great Villain Blogathon, which will allow movie bloggers to boo and hiss their favorite cinematic bad guys in an event that will take place from April 20-26 and will be sponsored by Ruth at Silver Screenings, Karen at shadowsandsatin, and Kristina at Speakeasy.  (And by the number “2”.)  I told Ruth to deal Thrilling Days of Yesteryear in, and on April 22 my entry will be on the delightfully diabolical Henry Brandon in his dual “Silas Barnaby” showcases of Babes in Toyland (1934; a.k.a. March of the Wooden Soldiers) and Our Gang Follies of 1938 (1937).  (I think this one is going to be a lot of fun.)

I mentioned at the beginning of this month that TDOY had made commitments to other blogathons…but that in some instances I was still trying to decide what topics would be addressed.  Everything has been finalized now, and here’s what I’ll be contributing:

The Sleuthathon (March 16-17, sponsored by Movies Silently): Johnny Staccato (1959-60)
Big Stars on the Small Screen (March 20-21, sponsored by How Sweet it Was): Gunsmoke – Bette Davis in “The Jailer” (10/01/66)
The Diamonds & Gold Blogathon (April 12-13, sponsored by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World): Harry Davenport in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
The Romantic Comedy Blogathon (May 1-4, sponsored by Carole & Co. and Backlots): Easy Living (1937)

And that just about covers it…next time on the blog, a look at what’s headed our way on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ once 31 Days of Oscar packs up its tent.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Stuart Whitman in The Mark (1961)

This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s entry in the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, now underway from February 1 through March 2 (and inspired by the annual event observed by The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™) and sponsored by Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen.

Actor Stuart Whitman celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday on the first day of this month—just in time to see the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon kick off in high gear.  In the 1960s, Whitman established a solid acting career as a dependable leading man in such films as Murder, Inc. (1960), The Comancheros (1961—with John Wayne), The Longest Day (1962—also with The Duke), Rio Conchos (1964) and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965).  From 1967 to 1968, Stuart starred in the ninety-minute TV western Cimarron Strip, a series that developed a cult following and was a Saturday morning staple on Encore Westerns a few years ago.  (Whitman also played Jonathan Kent, the adoptive father of young Clark Kent on the 1988-92 syndicated boob tube program Superboy.)

Stuart Whitman’s finest hour on the silver screen was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor—in the 1961 drama The Mark, adapted from the novel by Charles E. Israel.  Whitman plays James Fontaine; an ex-con just paroled from prison who has changed his last name to Fuller and is just getting acclimated to his new surroundings at the start of the movie.  He rents a room from an elderly couple, the Cartwrights (Brenda de Banzie, Maurice Denham), and reports to work at his new job with a public relations firm run by Andrew Clive (Donald Wolfit).  Fontaine’s gig with the company has been arranged by prison psychiatrist Edmund McNally (Rod Steiger), with whom Jim continues consulting as a condition of his parole; the only other individual aware of Fuller’s prison record is Clive’s secretary, Ruth Leighton (Maria Schell)…though she hasn’t been as fully briefed as her employer.

The audience doesn’t get a full reckoning of what sent Fuller to the joint, either, until about a half-hour in…when it is revealed that Jim was convicted as a sex offender.  This presents a number of problems for the protagonist—chiefly the possibility that his past crime will be exposed.  Complicating all this is that both he and Ruth have entered into a relationship; Ruth is a widow…with a young daughter, Janie (Amanda Black).  Despite his unease in light of his previous conviction, Jim eventually becomes comfortable in Janie’s presence.  He takes the girl to a carnival…and it is there that a tabloid reporter named Austin (Donald Huston) snaps a picture of the two of them—the publication of which sends Jim’s life into a downward spiral.

Whitman regarded his role in The Mark as the most challenging of his career…though if Richard Burton had not been committed to a stage play at the time the film was scheduled to go before the cameras, the title of this essay would be entirely different.  (Whitman speculated in a commentary for the DVD’s release in 2001 that Burton might have arranged to be kept busy in the play because he was nervous about the subject matter.)  Stuart was filming a screen test with Lee Remick when his agent told him to get on a plane for Europe, tuit suite.  The actor hadn’t even had a chance to look at the script (adapted by Stanley Mann and Sidney Buchman, who also co-produced) until he was ensconced in his hotel suite, and after reading it realized it was the acting opportunity of a lifetime. Though The Mark was a 20th Century Fox production, much of the filming was done at Ardmore Studios in Ireland; former cinematographer Guy Green, who had previously won an Oscar for his work on Great Expectations (1946), put Whitman and his fellow thesps through their paces (Green would later go on to helm Light in the Piazza [1962] and A Patch of Blue [1965]).

Actor Whitman later observed that he was grateful the film was shot in Ireland because its isolation (away from the hustle-and-bustle of Hollywood) helped him immeasurably in getting a handle on his demanding performance.  He’s able to convey marvelously the tentativeness of Jim Fuller, a man who despite having paid his debt to society is often uncertain of himself, worried that his release may have been premature.  Whitman makes Fuller a sympathetic individual…though in all fairness, he gets an assist from a slight deviation from the source material; in the novel, Fuller/Fontaine was a pedophile—but in the film, the protagonist is guilty only of kidnapping a minor and attempting sexual assault (he’s able to stop himself from completing the vile deed, but offers no defense at his trial because he realizes he’s sick and needs help).  (For an interesting example of a film that does feature a reformed pedophile as the main character, the 2004 film The Woodsman is worth checking out.)

Despite being the main character, Whitman was second-billed to Maria Schell, who was the more popular star at the time (The Brothers Karamazov, The Hanging Tree, Cimarron)…and ironically, the sister of the actor who won the Best Actor Oscar with which her co-star was competing (that would be Maximilian Schell, who triumphed for Judgment at Nuremberg).  It’s a mystery as to why Maria didn’t also receive Oscar consideration for her fine performance in Mark; her Ruth Leighton is warm and loving, and tenderly supportive of Jim even after she’s been made aware of the newspaper photograph (and the accompanying story, which provides vivid details of Fuller’s previous proclivities).  This support disappears in an instant, however, when daughter Janie, after spending the night at a friend’s house, runs to Jim because she’s happy to see him…and is stopped by Ruth’s startled cry of “Jamie…no!!!

Matching Whitman’s amazing performance is character great Rod Steiger as Dr. McNally, whose tough love approach to helping Jim Fuller also inspires a fierce sense of loyalty to the recovering ex-con: McNally continually backs Jim up whenever the latter is worried that he should have been kept locked up, and never wavers in his belief that Jim is now capable of functioning in society.  (As McNally so memorably explains to his patient: “I can help you…but I can’t solve your problems.”)  Steiger’s sympathetic turn as McNally is an interesting change-of-pace (Whitman remarks on the DVD commentary that a number of psychiatrists and med students told him they use the McNally character as a primer in dealing with those problems) from the less-than-flattering portrayals of these same professionals on shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Many of the supporting actors contribute exemplary performances though admittedly I was familiar with only a few of them, like Donald Wolfit and Maurice Denham; I’m a big fan of Brenda de Banzie, however, and it’s incredible what she accomplishes with the small role of Fuller’s landlady—in the early sections of Mark, she’s almost a surrogate mother (and many of the exchanges between her, Whitman and husband Denham echo similar interactions between Whitman’s character as a child, shown in flashback) until she is made aware of Jim’s past…and then her quick transformation into the woman who coldly orders Fuller out of their home is mesmerizing.

Whitman was told by his fellow actors and others who worked on The Mask that his performance would surely net him an Academy Award nomination; Stuart kept a level head about it all, but was still gobsmacked to be included in the company of Paul Newman (for The Hustler), Schell and Spencer Tracy (Nuremberg), and Charles Boyer (Fanny).  In a less competitive year, the actor might have pulled off an upset; even then, winner Schell told him when showing him his Oscar “This should have been yours”…and explaining to him that he (Whitman) carried his entire picture while Schell’s screen time was somewhat limited.  Schell’s sister Maria wrote Whitman a letter shortly after the nominees were announced, telling him that while she was very fond of him she was completely torn over which actor would get her vote.   Decide for yourself whether or not Stuart could have been “a contendah”; though the VCI DVD is now out-of-print, TCM will air this sleeper on February 21st at 1pm EST.  (Due to mature subject matter, viewer discretion is advised.)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I hope I’ve still got the hang of this blogging thing…

Well, since I’ve been officially in slack mode for the past month I figured it might be a good time to throw something up on the blog in the form of an explanation for that slackitude.  There have been a number of important goings-on here at Rancho Yesteryear that have had a profound effect on my blogging output, and while I haven’t been able to completely iron out the kinks I’m hoping that some of the measures I’ve taken to mow the grass that’s grown will ensure a bit more activity and the return of some of our beloved (and not-so-beloved) features.

A few weeks back, my office chair decided to put in its retirement papers…and since I’m still interviewing candidates for a replacement I haven’t been able to sit down in front of the computer for prolonged periods of time.  Right now, I have two temp chairs filling in—one of which leaves my ass numb after ten minutes…the other fifteen.  I’ve got a third chair that does rather well when I have to sit and watch movies…but it comes up woefully short whenever typing and other computer-related duties need attending.  (Clearly the solution involves funding for a new chair…but that’s a bit down the road a ways.)

America’s favorite (and still wacky) elderly couple—or “Los Parentes Yesteryear,” as Brandie of True Classics calls them—have both been experiencing some mild health concerns of late; it’s nothing too serious, just the usual complaints when you’re past the “spring chicken” stage…but nevertheless, it’s a situation that I’ve had to monitor closely.  As such, I felt it was better for all involved if I relinquished my position as associate editor at ClassicFlix in order to free up time for this, and so I tendered my resignation at the end of January.  I’ve not completely severed ties with CF; I will still contribute the occasional movie review and write their “Where’s That Been? (It Must Have Fallen Behind the File Cabinet)” column on a monthly basis—you can access those reviews by clicking on the ClassicFlix logo in the sidebar on the right, and I hope to also include links to these reviews in the “Movies” section of that sidebar before too long.

I included the above picture to show you that the ‘rents are still in the pink as they pose for a birthday snap (Dad's 82nd) with their favorite grandson.

I guess the big news around the House of Yesteryear is that in mid-January, the Entertainment Committee got together and voted to rid ourselves of CharredHer Cable…because my mother had grown weary of the expense (here’s where I make the old joke that the bill was large enough to be a William).  I was appointed head of a sub-committee to look into cheaper options (my fault, really—this is what happens when you leave the room to get a refill on iced tea) and our first choice was DirecTV…but when the competent DirecTV technician came out to install the dish, he informed us that it would not be feasible due to the large amount of “forest” surrounding the house.  (We do not live in B.F.E., by the way—it's just our neighborhood is rather heavily shaded, treewise.)

Being denied DirecTV wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because on the day the tech was coming out to install (or in our case, not install) the system, the word came down that DirecTV was no longer carrying The Weather Channel…a development that displeased my mother, because watching The Weather Channel is just something old people do.  The dispute, from what I have gleaned reading accounts on the Internets, is not unlike the recent kerfuffle between Charter and Atlanta’s WSB-TV; The Weather Channel is demanding a payment increase from DirecTV, and DirecTV has responded with sand and some pounding instructions.

That’s all well and good…but this doesn’t explain the brouhaha that’s going on between DirecTV and INSP: DirecTV has removed that station from its lineup despite the fact that INSP doesn’t charge them anything to carry the family-friendly programming cable channel.  (The fact that INSP has both The Virginian and The High Chaparral would seem to me having it available to your subscribers a must.)  If you’re a DirecTV subscriber, and you’d like to make your opinion known on this issue, the details are below (click to embiggen):

Well, since DirecTV was out…we had to go with Plan B, and on January 17 we welcomed AT&T U-Verse into our home.  I’ve heard mixed reactions to U-Verse (though admittedly more than a few of them are on those Comcast Xfinity commercials…and we don’t get Xfinity in our area) but we’ve not had any problems with it so far.  We sprung for the HD option, and to say that both parents have fallen in love with it would be a mild understatement; Mom has been raving about it ever since it was installed.  There are two big pluses with the U-Verse: 1) we’ve got a DVR now, which allows me to record movies that I’d like to watch without having to stay up later than normal or set my alarm for same, and 2) both televisions—the one in the living room and my room—get the same programming…which means The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ is now available for viewing in me boudoir.  (Oh, and we get both The Weather Channel and INSP…so suck it, DirecTV.)

There were a few sacrifices made: the U-Verse system doesn’t carry our Me-TV affiliate (I’ve had a couple of people tell me on Facebook and Twitter that it’s available on their systems but it’s not made it here yet), and I also lost Antenna TV and Movies!  But on the other hand, I watched those stations only because I couldn’t get Tee Cee Em in the back bedroom.  We’re also getting the Encore channels—which means my Gunsmoke habit has started up again via Encore Westerns, and we also have access to FX Movies, IFC and Sundance.  (Most of these, sadly, are now riddled with commercials, for which I can only say: boooooo.)

Several of my friends have successfully cut the cable umbilical cord, and I say more power to them; I would love to do likewise but the ‘rents have got a sports jones that constantly needs scratched and not having cable simply wouldn’t be an option for them.  (As for Father—well, he’s bummed because The Pentagon Military Channel isn’t available in HD.)  What we’ll probably do is keep U-Verse for a year…and then if we can’t make a deal with Monty Hall when the year is up we’ll go back to Charter…and then play one off the other the way people used to do by moving from apartment to apartment when the rent was due.  (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

So, I’m hoping to get some reviews of the movies I’ve been DVRing like a madman up soon, and also pick up where we left off on Serial Saturdays and Doris Day(s) in the bargain.  Working on some outside projects kept me from cobbling together a Coming Distractions in January…but it’s the usual 31 Days of Oscar programming on TCM, so you’ve not missed much.  I do want to mention that the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is currently underway in the same time period (February 1-March 3), hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club—I haven’t officially RSVP’d, but if all goes right I may put forth a post for that.

I have, however, committed to the Sleuthathon—a ‘thon that will doff our respective deerstalkers to the movie and TV detectives of yesteryear, and will be hosted by our good friend Fritzi at Movies Silently.  When I approached her about this on Twitter, I originally suggested doing a piece on my favorite small screen crime drama of all time, Naked City…and then a closer examination of the rules and regs revealed to me that the focus is just on detectives—cops is verboten.  So I had to change to an examination of the cult detective series Johnny Staccato, starring future auteur John Cassavetes.  The Sleuthathon gets underway on March 16th (it’s a two-day affair), so skate on over if you’re interested in participating.

Three other blogathons that I have not officially inked a deal with (okay, more like two) but will probably throw in once I see how my schedule looks include the Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon, which will be hosted at How Sweet It Was on March 20 and 21.  (Previously unknown trivia fact: the proprietress of How Sweet it Was and Once Upon a Screen are one and the same!  Think about it—have you ever seen a picture of them together?  I thought not…)

The Diamonds and Gold Blogathon, hosted by the gal reverently referred to here at Rancho Yesteryear as Our Lady of Great Caftan and the indestructible Rich from Wide Screen World, is scheduled to take place from April 12-13.  Caftan Woman’s subject is compelling in its simplicity: select an actor or actress who continued to work in films well into their twilight years…and ignore the fact that a good many of them probably had to, because 1) actors have to act and 2) some of them also have to eat.  I’ve told Her Caftaness that TDOY will review one of my very favorite silver screen Westerns, The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), which features a man who continued to want to perform even after they nailed his coffin shut: Harry Davenport.  (Okay, I may have made this last part up.)

Last—but only because I grouped these by date—and certainly not least is The Romantic Comedy Blogathon, hosted from May 1-4 by Carole & Co. and Backlots, a formidable pair of bloggers that nobody can deny (whoopee!).  The title is self-explanatory; it’s a tribute to the great romantic/screwball comedies of the movies, and I do plan to participate…I just need to nail down a topic.  It’s one that’s right up the ol’ Thrilling Days of Yesteryear alley.

So if you’ve been sitting around and staring at a blank blog, wondering what cinematic subjects you could possibly explore, you have no excuse for not participating in any of these fine events.  (Well, unless you’re trapped in a cave right now.  Or dead.  But we’ll need a note from your mother.)  Okay, my ass is now telling me that my fifteen minutes is up, so I’ll leave things where they’re at and get back to the blog soon.