07/16/2014

Movies Set in the Lone Star State

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(Courtesy: Warner Home Video)

We bet you already knew that ”The Alamo" is a movie set in Texas.  You should, it has happened twice.

But what about "Tender Mercies" and "Places in the Heart" and "The Trip to Bountiful," which won a Best Actress Academy Award for Geraldine Page?
 
In this presentation lasting just over an hour and enhanced with PowerPoint images and film clips, the focus is on films set in the Lone Star State.
 
The impressive list includes "Giant" and others, so join us, won't you?
 
For availability and speaking fees, call 214-364-7364 or email lrratliff@verizon.net.

Hollywood's Classic Movie Moms

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(Courtesy: Warner Home Video)

Do you have a favorite movie mom?

Sally Field as Forrest Gump's mama would be a great choice, as would Katharine Hepburn in "On Golden Pond."

The "Hollywood's Classic Movie Moms" presentation, enhanced with PowerPoint images and film clips and lasting a little over an hour, takes a loving and sometimes hard look at good moms and some bad mamas.
 
You could do a lot worse than Shirley MacLaine's screen mom in "Terms of Endearment" if you can handle some tough love.  But unless you're looking for a scathing tirade about wire hangers, you might want to stay away from "Mommie Dearest."
 
For availability and speaking fees, call 214-364-7364 or email lrratliff@verizon.net.

Get to Know Your Classic Foreign Films

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(Courtesy: The Criterion Collection)

I'll admit it right up front.  Some people cringe at the mere thought of movies from other countries that make audiences read subtitles.

This presentation, enhanced with PowerPoint images and film clips and lasting a little over an hour, is designed to show you what you've been missing if you suffer from the No Foreign Films stigma.
 
Open your minds a little and you'll be introduced to magnificent filmmaking and performances in classics like "Metropolis" and "The 400 Blows" and sentimental gems such as "Cinema Paradiso."
 
Take a chance, you might just discover something wonderful like "Wings of Desire," a personal favorite.
 
For availability and speaking fees, call 214-364-7364 or email lrratliff@verizon.net.

Hollywood's Hot Movie Scandals

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(Courtesy: deviantart.net)

Sometimes the glare of the spotlight, the pressure and the bevy of hangers-on who constantly praise movie stars convince some of Hollywood's biggest names that they can do no wrong.

Some of them, as you'll see in this presentation  enhanced with PowerPoint images and film clips and lasting a little over an hour, can.  And did.

Or did they?

Was Marilyn Monroe married to the mob?  Did screen goddess Lana Turner kill a guy?  What about silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle?  What really happened at a party in San Francisco where a young woman died?
 
And, perhaps you didn't know that the great Ingrid Bergman was once denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
 
We'll cover that and more in "Hollywood's Hot Movie Scandals."
 
For availability and speaking fees, call 214-364-7364 or email lrratliff@verizon.net.

Marlon Brando: The Man Behind the Icon

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Marlon Brando in "The Wild One." (Columbia Pictures)

An enormously gifted stage actor-turned-film actor, Marlon Brando loomed large in Hollywood, both in accolades and on the scale.

He was the star of everything from "On the Waterfront" to "The Godfather." But what was the man behind the icon like?
 
In this presentation using PowerPoint images and film clips and lasting a little over an hour, we'll take a close look at the man who once said, "All I want to be is normally insane."
 
A rebel on screen and off, Brando uttered one of my favorite movie lines in the classic "The Wild One" of 1953.
 
His character was asked, "Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" 
 
His answer:  "What have you got?"
 
For availability and speaking fees, call 214-364-7364 or email lrratliff@verizon.net.

03/03/2014

Oscars '14: The pizza man rings twice

Ellenphone300rThe 86th Academy Awards, broadcast for what seemed like forever on ABC Sunday night, was not my first Oscar rodeo.

I've watched them with hopeful but focused eyes for more years than I care to tally and covered them live twice.  That includes once when the NBC News Channel was fearless enough to place yours truly on the red carpet to schmooze celebs on their way in and out back to console the less fortunate and  congratulate the winners on their way out.

I'm proud to say I never once asked a starlet, "Who are you wearing?," which may have something to do with the fact that NBC hasn't rung me up for a return assignment.

I've seen Bob Hope and Billy Crystal dazzle, David Letterman fail miserably (1995), Whoopi Goldberg do OK three times, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin have fun (2010), James Franco and Anne Hathaway stink up the place (2011) and Ellen DeGeneres brighten up a large room with about a billion people around the world watching.

But that was 2007, when The Departed won four awards, including Best Picture.  Fast-forward to Sunday night (if we must) and two things happened that I never thought I'd see on an Academy Awards telecast:

In an ironic twist that mirrored what was probably going on in millions of homes around the world, the  Oscar telecast virtually halted to order-in some pizzas.

Even more of a shocker for me, though, was that Ellen (DeGeneres no longer necessary, thank you) had an off night.  I agree completely with the Hollywood Reporter review of the telecast that Ellen, so confident and genial on her afternoon TV gabfest, just wasn't hitting on all comic cylinders Sunday night.

Anyone can have an off night.  Heck, I was having one.  The surprise for me was that one of our most gifted comics, or perhaps the committee of writers, felt compelled to Seth MacFarlane (last year's failed host) it down into caustic dark comedy almost from the get-go.

Referring to Liza Minnelli as a Liza Minnelli impersonator and calling one of the truly great performers "sir" confirmed to me that it would be a very long evening and that someone other than Ellen determined the tone of the comedy.

Pizza350lNote to Ellen:  Next time, if there is one, do what Billy Crystal has done over and over.  Trust your gut when it comes to comedy and, most importantly, write (or at least control) your own material. 

A quick check with David Letterman could have warned Ellen of the pitfalls of treating the 3,300 or so odd mix of Hollywood young bucks, semi-elderly and elderly members of the Academy and their guests seated in the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood (formerly the Kodak Theater) like devout followers of their popular TV show.

The awards themselves, once the show finally got around to them, turned out to be a diverse bag that saw 12 Years a Slave take Best Picture and Supporting Actress honors (Lupita Nyong'o), Gravity suck in lots of technical trophies (seven in all) and Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron taking home a directing golden statuette. (Click for list of winners.)

It was good to see Texan Matthew McConaughey grab the Best Actor honor for losing a ton of weight and getting under the withering skin of an AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club.

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There were other bright spots, of course.

Bette Midler brought a hush over the crowd with a chilling performance of Wind Beneath My Wings as the In Memoriam tribute faded behind her.

From this aisle seat, though, the highlight came when Lupita Nyong'o, a 31-year-old Yale School of Drama grad born to Kenyan parents in Mexico but raised primarily, according to published reports, in Kenya, took the stage to accept her Supporting Actress award.

No pizza was ordered.

She didn't pause to whip out her cell phone and snap a "selfie."  Nyong'o exploded with joy, pride and respect and thanked everyone who helped her get to the most coveted spot in show business.

(Click this link.)

(Photo credits:  Ellen DeGeneres with phone and Lupita Nyong'o backstage, cbs.com/Ellen's pizza party, Los Angeles Times)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

02/18/2014

The wizard of Oscar and ch-ch-changes

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The Old Man and the Plea: Bruce Dern, left, and Will Forte in "Nebraska." (Paramount Vantage)

Mark your calendars and get your popcorn and Milk Duds ready.

The Academy Awards, the pat-on-the-back movie awards telecast that matters the most, lights up ABC on March 2.

Who do you like for Best Actor? It's a very strong race this year, with Texan Matthew McConaughey the odds-on front runner for his gritty performance in Dallas Buyers Club.

My heart belongs to Bruce Dern's brilliant, downplayed turn as the elder looking for new hope in the form of a million dollar contest payoff in Nebraska. The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg sums up the Best Actor race nicely.

Click here for the Hollywood Reporter link and let me know who you favor.

 Movie Memories updates and changes

MM Logo265Because of some very exciting personal news (a beautiful new grandbaby in the family), Movie Memories is widening its central target area to include San Antonio and Central Texas as well as the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

For all our loyal Metroplex clients, supporters and fans, nothing will change.  I will be in Dallas at least two or three days every week and more often when my Movie Memories speaking schedule requires.

The addition is that we'll now be including San Antonio, otherwise known as the original land of The Jalapeno Guy film critic 1-4 jalapeno rating system and my exciting times as movie critic at the San Antonio Express-News, the San Antonio Light, KMOL-TV, KABB-TV and Magic 105-FM radio, into the mix.

For those of you in San Antonio who may not be familiar with Movie Memories, it's a speech/presentation series dedicated to celebrating the magic of the movies, both classic and contemporary.  It goes way beyond merely showing movie clips and talking about my 30-plus years reviewing movies and traveling the world interviewing A-list movies stars.

We'll go behind the scenes of movies you think you know everything about, such as Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life and more, and I'll share some personal -- sometimes painful -- memories; such as the time I made the late, great Paul Newman cry.

So if you haven't already done so, click around on the Movie Memories website, especially on the Presentations link. 

Movie Memories presentations, lasting a little over an hour, are available for groups large and small, clubs, business meetings, conventions and senior living facilities and centers.

Please make note of the new telephone number to book Movie Memories.

It's 214-364-7364.

Hello again, San Antonio.  I'll see you at your Movie Memories presentation. 

01/21/2014

The way we were at C. C. Young

WayWerreThanks to everyone over at C. C. Young Senior Living near the shore of White Rock Lake in Dallas for the fantastic reception and turnout on Friday (Jan. 17). 

And a special thank you to three ladies:  Carol Butler, editor and publisher of The Senior Voice, who was generous enough to sponsor the event, and Denise Aver-Phillips (Director of The Point, C. C. Young's Center for Arts and Education) and Angela Castillo (Event coordinator & administrative assistant), who graciously welcomed our Movie Memories "Savor Those Tunes -- Great Movie Music" presentation and provided excellent support.

And while I'm gushing, something I rarely do in print, I'd like to thank Carol Butler for a terrific introduction.  Carol said such impressive things about me I almost wanted to take a seat and listen to me myself.

Also, thanks to the fine folks who filled the Point's auditorium to celebrate the joy of excellent movie tunes throughout cinematic history, and especially for responding to my comments about why I think it was a good thing that the characters portrayed by Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in The Way We Were didn't make a lifelong relationship work out.

It was a fantastic afternoon, so thanks, everyone involved, for making it happen.

And one more thing, you could have heard a pin drop when Bette Midler poured her singing heart out as The Rose. 

01/03/2014

Savoring tunes at C. C. Young

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It's always a joy to begin a new year with some exciting news, and I've got some.

Movie Memories is teaming up with The Senior Voice to bring my "Savor Those Tunes -- Great Movie Music" presentation to The Point at C. C. Young, the premier senior living center located near the shores of White Rock Lake in Dallas.

It's all happening from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17.  Here's the best news:  You're all invited.  It's free and open to the public.

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Liza with a Z belts one out in "Cabaret." (Allied Artists)

Help us fill the house to start the New Year off right by celebrating memorable music like Singin' in the Rain from the 1952 classic starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.  We'll go behind the scenes to reveal something surprising about Gene Kelly's splash through the title tune that you may not be aware of.

You'll learn how music guides an audience through an emotional cinematic roller coaster ride as a movie flickers through a projector when the filmmakers know what they're doing.

Without giving too much away, let's just say that we'll begin our movie tunes journey in New York, New York and wind our way melodically to the Midwest.

Thanks to Carol Butler at The Senior Voice for sponsoring this event and all the kind folks at C. C. Young for inviting us, we'll clap along as Liza Minnelli belts out the title tune to Cabaret.

So, to borrow a phrase from the movie:  Don't just sit there alone in your room, come to the Movie Memories cabaret on Friday, Jan. 17.  Call C. C. Young at 214-841-2831 to reserve your seat today.

Want a little sneak preview?  Just click on the arrow below.

 

Don't let foreign films scare you

I'm also excited about my "Get to Know Your Classic Foreign Films" Movie Memories presentation Wednesday (Jan. 8) from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. at Meadowstone Place senior living center in North Dallas.

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Salvatore (Salvatore Cascio) discovers the magic of the movies in "Cinema Paradiso." (blogspot.com)

Join us at Meadowstone Place (10410 Stone Canyon Road, Dallas 75230) for this revealing presentation under the auspices of Director Mitzi Werther and the Richland College Emeritus plus 50 program.

It's also free and open to the public.  Call Meadowstone Place at 214-987-0943 to reserve your spot. 

If you didn't know it already, you'll discover that movies from other countries often greatly influence American films.  Did you think, for instance, that the classic Western The Magnificent Seven or the romantic City of Angels were cinematic experiences born in the USA?  Well, you'd be wrong about that.

Join us and find out why.  You'll also get to know some foreign film classics you might want to rent; wonderful movies like Cinema Paradiso (1988) from Itay.

Before the hour or so of spanning the globe for movie classics is over, you'll also discover why subtitles are not to be feared, but appreciated.  See for yourself.  Click the arrow below.

 

(Gene Kelly photo from "Singin' in the Rain" courtesy:  MGM)

12/16/2013

R.I.P.: O'Toole, Fontaine, 'Billy Jack'

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Peter O'Toole in his most famous role, T.E. Lawrence in "Lawrence of Arabia." (www.mirror.co.uk)

The grim reaper has been busy over the past few days.

A cinematic icon, an Oscar-winning actress and one of Hollywood's legendary rule-breakers all died between Thursday and Sunday.

The loss of Peter O'Toole, an eight-time Academy Award nominee widely known as the star of Lawrence of Arabia, hit me the hardest.  O'Toole passed away at the age of 81 Saturday, after announcing his retirement from acting in July, 2012.

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Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland's little sister. (www.theguardian.com)

Hollywood also lost two other notables.  Joan Fontaine, younger sister of Academy Award-winner Olivia de Havilland, died Sunday.

A casting favorite of Alfred Hitchcock in films like Suspicion and Rebecca, Fontaine was 96.

 

 

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Tom Laughlin did things his way. (www.rottentomatoes.com)

Finally, Tom Laughlin may not exactly be a household name these days.  But as Billy Jack, the tough-as-nails ex-Green Beret of 50-50 Native American and White Man ancestry, Laughlin took it to "the man," and protected students of an arts school in Billy Jack, the early '70s action-drama he starred in, directed, co-wrote (with co-star Delores Taylor) and pretty much self-marketed to widespread appeal.

Laughlin, who succumbed to complications of pneumonia, died Thursday at the age of 82.

O'Toole's death hit me the hardest, though, and not just because the "unrepentant hellraiser" (according to published reports) commanded the most marquee power.

I never met the star of Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips (1971), The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year or The Stunt Man face-to-face.  I was lucky enogh to have a telephone conversation with O'Toole in 1988, however.

I was nervous.  O'Toole, most likely spending an excrutiating two or three-hour block of time on the telephone with a seemingly neverending list of film critics to promote a so-so at best fantasy comic-horror titled High Spirits, was obviously bored and distant by the time we spoke.

In fact, the acting legend did very little to mask his boredom as we chatted and he said all the right things about a movie he had probably already filed away as minor at best. 

And you know what?  I couldn't have cared less.  Through the wonder of telephone communication, I was speaking to T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), King Henry II (Becket), Arthur Chipping (Goodbye, Mr. Chips), and, my personal favorite, Alan Swann of the raucous 1982 comedy My Favorite Year.

Directed by Richard Benjamin, My Favorite Year features O'Toole as an Erol Flynn-like movie star with a serious drinking problem who agrees to be the featured guest star on a popular U.S. variety TV show.  Swann panics, though, we he learns he'll be appearing in front of a live audience.

As Swann, O'Toole spouts one of my favorite movie lines of all time:

"I'm not an actor.  I'm a movie star!"

Rest in peace, Mr. O'Toole.

And just for the record:  Yes you are, and I'll always remember you as one of the finest actors ever to grace the silver screen.

 

Naughty, not nice, but very funny

How many times have you considered something aptly described as "totally disgusting" a very good thing?

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Shopping mall Santa Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) prepares to greet the little darlings in "Bad Santa." (Dimension Films)

I can think of exactly one.  That's Billy Bob Thornton's riveting and revolting performance as a boozing, booty chasing, conniving thief of a department store Santa with a good (but very well hidden) heart.

And here's something else.  Can you believe it's been 10 years since Thornton, the star and Academy Award-winning screenwriter of the equally disturbing Sling Blade (1996), slipped into the worn Santa suit, lit up a cigarette and greeted the kiddies as a conman St. Nick in Bad Santa?

Nor can I.  But if you're in the mood for an edgy alternative to the usual holiday season leading man, like Jimmy Stewart as squeaky clean George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life or the persistent, but kind of annoying kid in A Christmas Story, slide Bad Santa (Rated R) into the DVR, grab hold of something and hit "play."

Just to make sure everyone understands, we're not talking family entertainment here.  So wait until the kids and/or the grandkids are safely out of sight.

As Willie, Thornton, in one of his finest screen performances in my humble opinion, grovels brilliantly as a desperately lonely, womanizing alcoholic with nowhere to go but up.

Willie, of course, goes down.  Way down.

 

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