Thursday, July 2, 2015

GUEST REVIEW: WE'RE NOT DRESSING

Guest reviewer Bruce Kogan is back with another guest movie review. This time around he reviews the 1934 Bing Crosby classic We're Not Dressing...

For those who've never seen Carole Lombard, but have heard about her genius for screwball comedy, go check out We're Not Dressing. Simple plot, Bing's a sailor on the Lombard yacht and he, Lombard, her uncle Leon Errol, her friend Ethel Merman and two princes/gigolos, Ray Milland and Jay Henry are shipwrecked after a drunken Leon Errol runs the yacht up on a reef. In order that they survive the sailor has to take charge and does. Oh, and also surviving is Lombard's pet bear, a creature named Droopy.

Droopy comes pretty close to stealing the picture, especially after Leon Errol persuades Crosby to put roller-skates on him while they're still on the ship. He also has another trick, he won't hear any other song but Goodnight, Lovely Little Lady one of the songs written for this film by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel.

Gordon and Revel's best known numbers from this are "May I" and "Love Thy Neighbor" which sold a few platters for Bing back in 1934. Soon after writing a score for another Crosby picture Two For Tonight, they moved over to 20th Century Fox where they scored some of Alice Faye's films.


Ray Milland in his autobiography "Wide-eyed in Babylon" recounts a tragic story during the filming of We're Not Dressing. The bear trainer gave specific instructions that any women whose time of the month it was were not to be on the set that day. One of them lied and the trainer was badly injured and later died of those injuries sustained at the paws of a super hormonally charged bear. He also said that Paramount signed him to a long term contract on the strength of that film.

The six castaways were not quite alone on the island. Burns and Allen were there also with their brand of surreal comedy. Hollywood never knew quite what to do with them. God knows they were funny as all get out, but rarely were asked to carry a whole film. 


Ethel Merman was another problem. Like her famous Broadway rival Mary Martin, she never quite made it in Hollywood. Her biggest success was always on Broadway. During the 1930s she would support, Crosby, Eddie Cantor, and most memorably Ty Power and Alice Faye and Don Ameche in Alexander's Ragtime Band. Her number "It's The Animal In Me" was cut from the picture, although it's briefly sung at the end. Paramount saved it and put it intact into their Big Broadcast of 1936 the following year.

At the time We're Not Dressing was shooting, Carole Lombard was romantically involved with Bing Crosby's singing rival crooner Russ Columbo. Columbo visited the set often and he and Crosby were friendly rivals and were known to do some impromptu singing during breaks. If only some sound man had left the microphone on. Columbo later died that year of a gunshot wound from an antique dueling pistol, a case that a lot of people felt was never satisfactorily solved.

So with Crosby, Lombard, Burns and Allen, Ethel Merman, Leon Errol just the sound of that casts spells some wacky wonderful fun...

BRUCE'S RATING: 8 OUT OF 10
MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BORN ON THIS DAY: LENA HORNE

One of the most beautiful and most talented of the African American singers to come out of the 1930s was the great Lena Horne. Her recordings, especially the ones from 1940s and 1950s showed what a mega talent she was. Sadly, during her short movie career and even monumental singing career, she faced prejudice and racism that complicated her legacy. Lena Horne was born on this day in 1917.

Lena Horne was born in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Reportedly descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of European American, Native American, and African-American descent, and belonged to the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated people.

Her father, Edwin Fletcher "Teddy" Horne, Jr. (1892–1970), a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade, left the family when she was three and moved to an upper-middle-class black community in the Hill District community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Edna Louise Scottron (1895–1985), daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre troupe and traveled extensively. Scottron's maternal grandmother, Amelie Louise Ashton, was a Senegalese slave. Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.


When Horne was five, she was sent to live in Georgia. For several years, she traveled with her mother. From 1927 to 1929 she lived with her uncle, Frank S. Horne, Dean of Students at Fort Valley Junior Industrial Institute (now part of Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia, who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From Fort Valley, southwest of Macon, Horne briefly moved to Atlanta with her mother; they returned to New York when Horne was 12 years old. She then attended Girls High School, an all-girls public high school in Brooklyn that has since become Boys and Girls High School; she dropped out without earning a diploma. Aged 18, she moved in with her father in Pittsburgh, staying in the city's Little Harlem for almost five years and learning from native Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine, among others.

In the fall of 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade starring Adelaide Hall, who took Lena under her wing. A few years later Horne joined Noble Sissle's Orchestra, with which she toured and with whom she recorded her first record release, a 78rpm single issued by Decca Records. After she separated from her first husband, Horne toured with bandleader Charlie Barnet in 1940–41, but disliked the travel and left the band to work at the Café Society in New York. She replaced Dinah Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. More hit records and a contract with MGM would follow in 1942. The rest of Lena Horne's life, both good and bad, is musical history...


Friday, June 26, 2015

RECENTLY VIEWED: JURASSIC WORLD

Now that I have two young children, I have not seen a grown up movie in the movie theater since 2010's comedy Date Night. A lot has changed in five years and mostly the prices. So for Father's Day my wife talked me into going to see the new film Jurassic World. I went by myself, but I am glad I did. I saw the first Jurrassic Park movie in the movie theaters as a teenager, and I have seen each additional sequel as well, and I had to see this newest film.

This is the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park film series. The screenplay was co-written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, and Trevorrow. The film stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, and Irrfan Khan. Wong is the only actor from any of the previous films to appear in the film. Set 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World takes place on the same fictional island of Isla Nublar, where a now fully-functioning dinosaur theme park has been in operation for ten years. The park, however, plunges into chaos as a genetically-modified dinosaur named Indominus Rex breaks loose and runs rampant across the island.


Universal Pictures initially intended to begin production on a fourth film in 2004 for a summer 2005 release, but endured over a decade of "development hell" as scheduled release dates were pushed back several times while the script went through revisions. Steven Spielberg, director of the first two Jurassic Park films, acted as executive producer, as he had for the third film. Thomas Tull also acted as executive producer; his production company, Legendary Pictures, funded approximately 20 percent of the film's budget. The film was produced by Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley, and was released by Universal on June 10, 2015 in European countries, June 11 in Australia, India and Malaysia, and June 12 in North America.


I was a huge fan of actor Chris Pratt from his television work on Parks And Recreations from 2009 to 2015. As for Bryce Dallas Howard, I actually saw her in the 2004 movie The Village. I was worried that this movie would be silly and repetitive. Even though this is the fourth movie in the series, it was just about better than the first one. There were lots of nods and references to the first movie, and one minor star BD Wong from this first movie actually had a huge role in this film. Very rarely can a sequel, some twenty-two years after the original brief life in a film series, but they managed to do that with Jurassic World. I don't want to reveal too many plot details, but I highly recommend this movie. I am lucky that I have a wonderful wife who would let me relive my child hood for at least 120 minutes to watch this great popcorn film...

MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

PAST OBITS: ALICE FAYE

Here is the NY Times obituary for the underrated musical actress Alice Faye from May 10, 1998. She was a wonderful entertainer - both as a singer and as an actress...


Alice Faye, Hollywood Star Who Sang for Her Man, Is Dead
By ALJEAN HARMETZ


Alice Faye, one of the few movie stars to walk away from stardom at the peak of her career, died yesterday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was in her mid-80's.

The cause was cancer, according to her publicity company, Jewel Baxter, which said she had had two stomach tumors removed last month.

Ms. Faye's warm, husky contralto and demure sexuality in ''Tin Pan Alley,'' ''Hello, Frisco, Hello'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' made her one of Hollywood's top 10 moneymaking stars in 1938 and 1939. Under contract to 20th Century Fox for a little over a decade, during which she made 32 movies, Ms. Faye walked out in 1945 after Darryl Zanuck, the studio's leader, chopped up her scenes in ''Fallen Angel'' to highlight the performance of a younger Fox star, Linda Darnell.

Ms. Faye handed the keys to her dressing room to the studio gate guard and drove off the lot.

''When I stopped making pictures,'' she told an interviewer in 1987, ''it didn't bother me because there were so many things I hadn't done. I had never learned to run a house. I didn't know how to cook. I didn't know how to shop. So all these things filled all those gaps.''


It was that attitude of taking life as it came without shaking her fist at fate that informed many of her screen performances. She was the honest, good-hearted girl who stood by her man. And when that man did her wrong, her response was to sing a torch song and love him harder. Off screen she had an unlikely but happy marriage to the brash band leader Phil Harris, whom she married in 1941. Hollywood gossip columnists gave the marriage six months, but it lasted 54 years, until Mr. Harris's death at the age of 91 in 1995. They had lived for many years in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.

Ms. Faye, whose original name was Alice Leppert, was the daughter of a New York City policeman and grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Although some books list her birth date as 1912, she insisted she was born in 1915 but had lied about her age when she joined the Chester Hale vaudeville troupe at 13.

After several years in the chorus, Alice Faye, still a teen-ager, got a job on Broadway in ''George White's Scandals of 1931,'' which starred Ethel Merman, Ray Bolger and Rudy Vallee. She sang ''Mimi'' at a cast party, and Mr. Vallee hired her as a singer on his radio show. When ''Scandals'' was made into the Fox film ''George White's Scandals of 1934,'' Ms. Faye replaced Lillian Harvey as Mr. Vallee's love interest. Mr. Vallee's wife sued for divorce, naming Ms. Faye as his love interest off screen as well.


Fox put Ms. Faye under contract and presented her as a brassy imitation Jean Harlow in movies like ''She Learned About Sailors'' and ''King of Burlesque.'' After Mr. Zanuck's 20th Century Films merged with Fox in 1935, the studio softened her image. Jack Kroll of Newsweek once called her ''a luscious marshmallow sundae of a girl,'' and her ripe figure fit the many period movies like ''Little Old New York'' and ''In Old Chicago'' in which she sang to Don Ameche, Tyrone Power or John Payne from the stage of a saloon.

Mr. Ameche lost her to Mr. Power in ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' and ''In Old Chicago'' but won her affections in ''You Can't Have Everything,'' ''Hollywood Cavalcade,'' ''Lillian Russell'' and ''That Night in Rio.''

It was the one-two punch of ''In Old Chicago'' and ''Alexander's Ragtime Band'' in 1938 that made Ms. Faye a top box-office draw. A year later she and Mr. Power were teamed for the last time in ''Rose of Washington Square,'' a fictionalization of the Nicky Arnstein-Fanny Brice story that was later the basis for the Broadway and Hollywood musical ''Funny Girl,'' which starred Barbra Streisand. Ms. Faye had been responsible for Mr. Power's stardom. In 1936, when he was only an extra, she insisted that Fox test him.

Her voice was inviting, and Irving Berlin once said he would choose Ms. Faye over any other singer to introduce his songs. In 1937, George Gershwin and Cole Porter called her the best female singer in Hollywood. In ''Rose of Washington Square,'' with tears in her eyes, Ms. Faye poured her love and faith in her no-good man into ''My Man.'' But the song with which she is most closely associated is the Academy Award-winning ballad ''You'll Never Know'' from ''Tin Pan Alley.''


An early marriage to Tony Martin, a singer, ended in divorce after three years when Ms. Faye had become a star and Mr. Martin had not succeeded in the movies. When she remarried, she said, she was determined not to let that happen again. She and Mr. Harris were the parents of two daughters by the time she walked off the Fox lot after ''Fallen Angel.''

So she spent the next eight years raising her children and appearing with her husband on a successful Sunday evening radio program, ''The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.''

In 1962 Ms. Faye returned to 20th Century Fox as Pat Boone's mother in a poorly received remake of ''State Fair.'' In 1973 she toured in a revival of ''Good News,'' and in 1976 joined other golden-era stars in cameo roles in ''Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.''

In 1984 Ms. Faye became a spokeswoman for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, encouraging ''young elders'' to live a healthy life. In 1990, she was co-author of a book, ''Growing Older, Staying Young,'' with Dick Kleiner.

Reminiscing about her years at Fox, Ms. Faye described the studio as a kind of penitentiary.

''So I decided to make a new life for myself,'' she said. ''A home life. I had been chauffeured to work, made up, dressed, given my meals and chauffeured back home. I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful to be independent. I equated independence with seeing daylight during the week and learning how to drive a car.''


Monday, June 22, 2015

RIP: JAMES HORNER


James Horner, one of the most prolific composers in recent years, has died. On June 22, 2015 his single engine airplane crashed about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California, killing the composer instantly. This is according to Horner's attorney Jay Cooper.

He was noted for the integration of choral and electronic elements in many of his film scores, and for frequent use of Celtic musical elements.

Horner scored over 100 films in his long career. His first major film score was for the 1979 film The Lady in Red, but did not establish himself as a mainstream composer until he worked on the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner's score for Titanic is the best selling orchestral film soundtrack of all time while Titanic and Avatar, both directed by James Cameron, are the two highest-grossing films of all time. He has also collaborated multiple times with directors Jean-Jacques Annaud, Mel Gibson, Walter Hill, Ron Howard and Joe Johnston.

Horner has won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, three Satellite Awards, three Saturn Awards, and has been nominated for three British Academy Film Awards.

James Horner began studying piano at the age of five, and trained at the Royal College of Music in London, England, before moving to California in the 1970s. After receiving a bachelor's degree in music at USC, he would go on to earn his master's degree at UCLA and teach music theory there.


Before writing his first film scores, Horner was an accomplished concert hall composer. His first concert work in over 30 years came with Pas De Deux though, and featured Norwegian duo Mari & Hakon Samuelsen.

At the beginning of 2015 Horner wrote the music for Jean-Jacques Annaud's adventure film Wolf Totem, which marked his fourth collaboration with Annaud and also Horner's first film score in three years.

Horner's future projects include the music for the forthocming film The 33 for director Patricia Riggen, which will be released in 2015. He will also write the music for Southpaw, a sports drama film directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams. The film is scheduled for release on July 31, 2015.


In 2014 Horner composed the commission piece Pas de Deux, a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, which was premiered on November 12, 2014, by Mari and Hakon Samuelsen with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko. The work was commissioned to mark the 175th season of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Horner also composed Collage, a Concerto for Four Horns, which premiered on March 27, 2015, at the Royal Festival Hall in London by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jaime Martin, with David Pyatt, John Ryan, James Thatcher and Richard Watkins as soloists.

Despite all of prolific work though, his best remembered work was the song "My Heart Will Go On" for the movie Titanic. It made Celine Dion a star, and it catapulted James Horner to composer superstar alongside other composers like Marvin Hamlish and John Williams.

James Horner is survived by his wife and two daughters. He was 61...


SHARPSHOOTER: THE REAL ANNIE OAKLEY

Blessed with a natural talent for sharp-shooting, Annie Oakley proved herself dominant in a sport that was long considered a man's domain. Oakley was a gifted entertainer as well; her performances with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show brought international fame, making her one of the most celebrated female performers of her time. Annie Oakley's unique and adventurous life has inspired numerous books and films, as well as a popular musical.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860 in rural Darke County, Ohio, the fifth daughter of Jacob and Susan Moses. The Moses family had moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania after their business -- a small inn -- had burned to the ground in 1855. The family lived in a one-room log cabin, surviving on game they caught and crops they grew. Another daughter and a son were born after Phoebe. Annie, as Phoebe was called, was a tomboy who preferred spending time outdoors with her father over household chores and playing with dolls. When Annie was only five, her father died of pneumonia after being caught in a blizzard.

Annie worked at the county poor house growing up, but she then returned to her mother's home at the age of 15. Annie could now resume her favorite pastime -- hunting. Some of the game she shot was used to feed her family, but the surplus was sold to general stores and restaurants. Many customers specifically requested Annie’s game because she shot so cleanly (through the head), which eliminated the problem of having to clean buckshot out of the meat. With money coming in regularly, Annie helped her mother pay off the mortgage on their house. For the rest of her life, Annie Oakley made her living with a gun.


Annie entered a pigeon-shooting match in 1881 against a single opponent, unaware that soon her life would change forever. Annie's opponent in the match was Frank Butler , a sharp-shooter in the circus. He made the 80-mile trek from Cincinnati to rural Greenville, Ohio in the hopes of winning the $100 prize. Frank had been told only that he would be up against a local crack shot. Assuming that his competitor would be a farm boy, Frank was shocked to see the petite, attractive 20-year old Annie Moses. He was even more surprised that she beat him in the match.

Frank, ten years older than Annie, was captivated by the quiet young woman. He returned to his tour and the two corresponded by mail for several months. They were married sometime in 1882, but the exact date has never been verified. Once married, Annie traveled with Frank on tour. One evening, Frank's partner became ill and Annie took over for him at an indoor theater shoot. The audience loved watching the five-foot-tall woman who easily and expertly handled a heavy rifle. Annie and Frank became partners on the touring circuit, billed as "Butler and Oakley." It is not known why Annie picked the name Oakley; possibly it came from the name of a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Quickly Butler and Oakley were the toast of America and Great Britain.


After years of living out of trunks, Frank and Annie were ready to settle down in a real home during the show's off-season (November through mid-March). They built a house in Nutley, New Jersey and moved into it in December 1893. (The couple never had children, but it is unknown whether or not this was by choice.)

During the winter months, Frank and Annie took vacations in the southern states, where they usually did a lot of hunting. In 1894, Annie was invited by inventor Thomas Edison of nearby West Orange, New Jersey, to be filmed on his new invention, the kinetoscope (a forerunner of the movie camera). The brief film shows Annie Oakley expertly shooting out glass balls mounted on a board, then hitting coins thrown up in the air by her husband.


Annie and Frank kept busy, traveling together to advertise for Frank's employer, a cartridge company. Annie participated in exhibitions and shooting tournaments and received offers to join several western shows. She re-entered show business in 1911, joining the Young Buffalo Wild West Show. Even in her 50s, Annie could still draw a crowd. She finally retired from show business for good in 1913.

Annie and Frank bought a house in Maryland and spent winters in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Annie gave free shooting lessons to local women. She also donated her time to raising funds for various charities and hospitals.

In November 1922, Annie and Frank were involved in a car accident, in which the car flipped over, landing on Annie and fracturing her hip and ankle. She never fully recovered from her injuries, which compelled her to use a cane and a leg brace. In 1924, Annie was diagnosed with pernicious anemia and became increasingly weak and frail. She died on November 3, 1926 at the age of 66. Some have suggested that Annie died from lead poisoning after years of handling lead bullets.

Frank Butler, who had also been in poor health, died 18 days later...