Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Film List 2016

Jessica from Avenue Montaigne
All of the films on this year’s list are personal favorites of mine. Although I am a great fan of American films, I believe that foreign films provide an opportunity to see and understand other cultures. In addition to being great stories with great characters, they can open up a window to other worlds.

AVENUE MONTAIGNE: a lively French comedy that centers around Jessica, a charming young woman from the provinces who comes to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a chic bistro on fabled Avenue Montaigne, the city’s nexus for art, music, theater and fashion. Jessica’s customers include a popular TV actress; a wealthy art collector; and an illustrious classical pianist. Precisely because Jessica doesn’t know how celebrated these people are, her guileless and completely unintimidated engagement in their lives has a transforming effect on them—and ultimately her.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS:  Before the collapse of the Berlin wall, East Germany’s population was closely monitored by the State Secret Police or Stasi.  Only a few citizens above suspicion, like renowned pro-Socialist playwright Georg Dreyman were permitted to lead private lives. But when a corrupt government official falls for Georg’s stunning actress-girlfriend, Christa, an ambitious Stasi policeman is ordered to bug the writer’s apartment to gain incriminating evidence against the rival. Now, what the officer discovers is about to change their lives—as well as his—in this seductive political thriller.

PYGMALION: George Bernard Shaw wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own stage masterpiece about Professor Henry Higgins’s wager to turn a low-class flower vendor into a “lady”. This 1938 film, starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, one of Great Britain’s greatest actresses, was later adapted into the famed musical, “My Fair Lady”.

THE ICICLE THIEFA film director has been invited to show his grim dark realist drama in the style of the Bicycle Thief on Italian commercial television. Unfortunately, his film is frequently interrupted by garish commercials, and then by a power outage that makes everything go haywire. Characters in the commercials begin to interact with characters in the film and the result is a visually stunning romantic comedy. Only available on VHS.

TOKYO STORY: the crowning film achievement of the great Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu. The film follows an aging couple’s journey to visit their grown children in bustling postwar Tokyo. This black and white film from 1953 features Ozu regulars Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. “One of cinema’s greatest masterpieces.”

Tokyo Story
JOHNNY STECCHINO:  Famed Italian comic Roberto Benigni stars in a dual role as a simple school bus driver and as a Mafioso. As usual, Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s wife, co-stars. One of the great comedies of all time but only available in VHS.

A FOREIGN FIELD: A British film with an acclaimed international cast including Alec Guinness, Leo McKern, Jeanne Moreau, and Loren Bacall. Two British war vets meet an American vet when all three return to Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Old rivalries resurface, particularly when two of the men discover they are searching for the same lost love. This disparate band of survivors eventually finds common ground in the memory of what they lost on that fateful day in 1944.

SEPARATE TABLES: A 1958 film based on two plays by renowned British playwright Terence Rattigan about a day in the life of the residents at a British resort hotel. The residents are played by an all-star cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Wendy Hiller. Niven won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and Hiller won Best Supporting Actress.

Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Memories

I find it hard to understand why some people don’t like Christmas, or why some even go out of their way to criticize or even attack it. I have wonderful memories of Christmas and for me it is hard to imagine what life would have been like without Christmas. It is true that most of these memories have been blurred together by the passage of time—trimming the tree on Christmas eve, children around the tree opening presents on Christmas day, and sitting down with the whole family for Christmas dinner.

Some memories do stand out. Just a couple of years ago I went to Victoria’s Secret to buy a pair of pajamas for my wife only to be told that the sale price included two pairs of panties that I would have to pick out. Going back further, I remember standing in a mall after my first year as a struggling mutual fund and insurance salesman and calling my office (there were no cell phones then) to see if my commission check would be large enough to buy presents for my wife and five small children. It was.

Going back to my own childhood, I remember my grandmother and grandfather making zeppoles and other Italian pastries in their tiny kitchen. Never mind granite countertops, their old kitchen had no countertops at all. The kitchen table and the stove top somehow managed for the task of working the dough before dropping it into the boiling oil to cook the delicious Christmas confections.

 However, one memory stands out above all the others. My wife and I had moved to Connecticut so that I could take a teaching position in a small college in Fairfield.  My first year's salary was about $6000. With the help of a down payment from my dad, we bought a small house back in 1967 after the birth of our second child. Two years later on Christmas eve both of our boys had an attack of asthmatic bronchitis. This had happened before but our usual remedy of taking them into the bathroom, turning on the hot water in the shower, and making the room into a steam room did not work this time.

With reluctance we called our pediatrician on the night before Christmas. He volunteered to come to the house. House calls were not unusual in those days but it was Christmas eve and he was a young man with a family of his own. Still, he came and stayed and ministered to the boys for what seemed like hours. Finally, he recommended that we take the youngest to the hospital. A wonderful neighbor volunteered to baby sit for us and we drove to the hospital where my wife spent the evening with little Edward.

Next day all was well and mother and child returned home. We can never forget Dr. Cahill for what he did that night. To top it all off, he refused to bill us precisely because it was Christmas.

Happy 51st birthday to Ed and Merry Christmas to all.