Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mary Pickford and Her Role in Film History

Many women have made important contributions to the history of motion pictures. However,  after seeing Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, I believe Mary Pickford may be at the top of that list. This revealing documentary, available on DVD, not only showcases the life of the legendary star but also intertwines her career with the birth of the cinema. I am pleased to participate in the 2015 National Film Preservation Foundation Blogathon by sharing my review of this terrific documentary.

Produced, co-directed and edited by veteran filmmaker Nicholas Eliopoulos, Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies is a must-see for everyone who loves movies. It’s a treasure chest of information about the early days of filmmaking and how Pickford shaped the development of acting for the screen. Plus, along with Michael York’s expert narration, we actually hear “America’s Sweetheart” tell part of the story in her own words.       

Here are a few highlights to watch for:

■ Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (Pickford’s hubby at the time) placing their hand and footprints in cement outside the Chinese Theater. They were the first stars immortalized in this way. It’s quite amusing how they came up with this idea!

■ Amelia Earhart and Mary Pickford, the most famous women of their time, talking and joking together.

Home movies featuring Mary Pickford, the dashing Douglas Fairbanks and their friend (?) Charlie Chaplin.  

■ Intriguing scenes from Mary Pickford’s classic silent films.

■ Revealing interviews with Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Buddy Rogers (Pickford’s last husband), and Roxanne Rogers (Pickford’s daughter).

Before seeing this documentary, I didn’t realize how important Mary Pickford was to film history. For example, she co-created United Artists Studios (the first company owned and run by actors themselves) and spearheaded founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She was also the first actor (male or female) to have her name on a marquee with the film’s title, and she was the first to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a sound movie (for Coquette in 1929).

“I feel like I really know Mary Pickford,” my husband raved when we finished watching Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies. And I feel the same way, probably because this splendid documentary spends so much time delving into Pickford’s personal and artistic opinions as well as lauding her accomplishments. Of course, she wasn’t perfect. Pickford definitely had her ups and downs, which are also dealt with here and help make her seem so real to us.

“When I discovered that Mary Pickford was born in the same year that Thomas Edison invented the movie camera, I knew these two stories were intertwined,” Eliopoulos says. Happily, he tells both stories with skill and heart in Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies. (Released by Cinema Libre; not rated by MPAA.)          

Please check out the 2015 Film Preservation Blogathon by clicking on the links below and donating to this worthy cause. Some great film-related raffle prizes are also available.   

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Previewing the Summer Film Schedule

Popular film critics A.J. Hakari and Mack Bates drop by Movie Addict Headquarters on May 12th to discuss the movie release schedule for Summer of 2015. Their goal? To help listeners pick the cream of the crop from over 85 summer releases. Because Mack and A.J. never shy away from expressing candid opinions about everything cinematic, they make a perfect duo for this timely topic! If you miss the live BlogTalkRadio show at 4 p.m. Eastern Time, an archived segment will be available for your listening pleasure. 

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hollywood Legends

In the Company of Legends was written just for me. Well, probably not, but I sure felt that way while reading this marvelous show biz memoir by Joan Kramer and David Heeley, who have produced outstanding documentaries about such beloved Hollywood legends as Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Paul Newman, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart. Although Kramer and Heeley reveal fascinating behind-the-scenes information about these classic movie stars and more, their book also describes how they put together their film portraits despite almost insurmountable obstacles. Their individual talents plus teamwork and powers of persuasion shine through in every chapter -- as does their inspiring persistence.

And who knew a book about making documentaries could be so suspenseful? For example, I was absolutely on the edge of my seat reading about how the dynamic duo persuaded Ginger Rogers to take part in one of their Fred Astaire projects. And I didn’t think they would ever succeed in proving Judy Garland frequently sang “Over the Rainbow” to President Kennedy over the phone.    

I agree with Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, who calls In the Company of Legends “one of the best reasons ever for curling up with a book.” He goes on to praise the memoir because it’s about “dazzling personalities and told by people who actually knew the celebrities they write about, worked with them and, further, socialized with them, aware of their foibles and strengths from first-hand knowledge, not hearsay.”

Among the Kramer and Heeley documentaries are: Katharine Hepburn: All About Me; Bacall on Bogart; The John Garfield Story; The Adventures of Errol Flynn; The Spencer Tracy Legacy; James Stewart: A Wonderful Life; Fonda on Fonda; Fred Astaire: Puttin’ on His Top Hat; Fred Astaire: Change Partners and Dance.

In the Company of Legends, published by Beufort Books, is available on If you are a movie addict like me, you should order it right away.

Also, don’t miss Kramer and Heeley on our Movie Addict Headquarters radio show. They are scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on BlogTalkRadio. After the live episode, an archived segment of their interview will be available for your listening pleasure. Here’s the link:  


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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Celebrity Banter

Happiness is being interviewed by Phil Hall! He asked me about my radio show, how I happened to become a film critic, and the status of movies today. Fun questions, for sure. Below is a link to the entire interview posted at Celebrity Banter yesterday. 

Thanks so much, Phil, for your interest and support.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

No Biz Like Show Biz

If you love show biz, please put My Hi-De-High Life by Peter Keogh on your must-read list! In this wonderfully entertaining memoir, the author recalls funny and sometimes shocking adventures of his life as a producer, stage manager, prop master, tour guide, dresser, night watchman and usher at various Australian and London venues. 

As the world’s most avid movie addict, I particularly enjoyed Keogh’s revealing descriptions of fascinating behind-the-scene situations involving so many stars of the Golden Years of Hollywood, including Debbie Reynolds, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Peter O’Toole, Liv Ullman, Eve Arden and more.

Growing up gay in 1950s Australia was no picnic for Keogh, but he did more than survive. Even his later unlucky experience during a court case could not bring him down. Although parts of his life have been painful, Keogh clearly revels in his show biz activities. The book comes even more alive when he writes about the stars he’s come in contact with. For example, priceless is the only way to describe how he started out as a Debbie Reynolds fan, became her friend, and then the producer of Irene, her popular stage production in Australia.

Happily, Keogh writes with a breezy, chatty style that helped draw me into his world. It’s a real treat to read a memoir so genuine, amusing and candid as My Hi-De-High Life!

(Published by Apex Publishing Ltd. E-book version is available on

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

An Irish Film To Remember

Spencer Tracy once remarked about Katharine Hepburn, “There’s not much meat on her bones, but what’s there is cherse.” Similarly, the little bit of dancing in Dancing at Lughnasa is “cherse” indeed. When the five Irish sisters finally give in to their urge to dance, viewers are treated to an exuberant display of folk dancing that represents the best in quality film editing and directing. Looking back on that night, the movie’s narrator calls it, “Dancing as if language had surrendered to it; dancing as if words were no longer needed.”

The lot of Irish women in the 1930s was not a happy one. But the five unmarried Mundy sisters gain strength and courage from each other.  Despite poor economic conditions, individual eccentricities, and birth of a love child to the youngest sister, these women try bravely to keep the family unit intact. Led by Kate (Meryl Streep), the strict oldest sister, they knit gloves, raise chickens, and care for Michael (Darrell Johnston), an 8-year-old illegitimate child of romantic Christina (Catherine McCormack). Kate, who teaches in the village Catholic school, worries mostly about their simple-minded sister, Rose (Sophie Thompson). Big-hearted Maggie (Kathy Burke) and stoical Agnes (Brid Brennan) round out the Mundy female clan.

Although not central to the action, three men play important roles in the lives of this family. Their long-absent older brother (Michael Gambon), a man of the cloth, returns from Africa as a religious outcast. Instead of converting the natives, they seem to have converted him. He and Michael both receive unconditional love from all five Mundy sisters. And Michael’s father (Rhys Ifans) makes a farewell visit before leaving to fight in Spain.

A great ensemble cast contributes to the excellence of this moving film. Streep’s Irish brogue is perfect, and Thompson’s unusual portrayal of Rose emerges as a memorable one.   

Based on Brian Friel’s Tony Award-winning play, Dancing at Lughnasa avoids the pitfalls of so many plays adapted for the screen.  Thanks to screenwriter Frank McGuinness and director Pat O’Connor, the movie version opens up the story to include such memorable scenes as a pagan ritual deep in the Donegal hills and a dangerous picnic on a boat. O’Connor states, “The challenge for me in making this film was to draw together intense and extraordinary things -- romance, humor, tragedy, realism, and mysticism -- in a work that is, I hope, emotionally uplifting.” 

Filmmaker O’Connor met his challenge with flying colors.  One doesn’t have to be Irish (or a woman) to appreciate this wonderful movie. (Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “PG” for mild language and thematic elements.)

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favorite Films of 2014

Will wonders never cease? For the first time ever, three musicals made it to my list of Top Ten movies of the year.  As an avid movie musical fan, I feel quite happy about that. My list also includes a couple of fantasies, a drama, a sci-fi flick, a romance, a comedy and a biopic. As usual, these films have been selected mostly for their entertainment quality. They are the 2014 films I want to see over and over again.

MALEFICENT. Angelina Jolie commands the screen as the wicked fairy from “Sleeping Beautyin a new version of the fairy-tale fantasy. This unusual adaptation deals with such serious themes as betrayal, revenge, love, and redemption. But the most impressive thing about Maleficent involves its creative presentation. Practically every scene comes across like an intriguing work of art. The film is truly a rare cinematic masterpiece.

NIGHT CRAWLER. This practically perfect movie follows one of the most mesmerizing creeps ever seen on screen, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the main character (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) for one second because I was afraid to miss ANYTHING he said or did. The film’s outrageous dialogue and its important theme about the emphasis of violent stories on TV news also contributes to  a fascinating story being told -- one that held my intense interest from beginning to end.
MAKE YOUR MOVE.  Derek Hough (be still my heart) tap dances up a storm in this VERY entertaining musical co-starring the multi-talented South Korean star BoA. Believe it or not, our favorite “Dancing with the Stars” pro can really act! Plus, the dance numbers are first rate here. How often do we get to see dynamic tap routines on the big screen lately? And SURPRISE!!!  the story is riveting -- just like the PR claims. Too bad the movie received such a limited release. Fortunately, the film is out now on DVD, and I highly recommend it.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. This was the most emotional film of the year for me. Shailene Woodley’s portrayal of a teen suffering from cancer who falls in love with a fellow student tugs at your heartstrings. I admire how the romance is treated so tastefully in this movie. Yes, it’s a sentimental tear-jerker. But there are charming and humorous moments throughout plus, all the cast members are excellent in their roles, especially Laura Dern as the compassionate, caring mother.       

MUPPETS MOST WANTED. Have you ever thought a movie was made just for you? That happened to me while watching Muppets Most Wanted. This hilarious romp includes most of my favorite things: singing, tap dancing, comedy, and The Muppets, who always make me smile. This eighth Muppet movie is one of their best. Happily, that special Muppet magic is still going strong.

WINTER’S TALE. This strange but wonderful film -- which represents magical realism at its best -- took my breath away with its compelling performances, tender love story, thrilling background music, and suspenseful sequences involving a magical white horse. Colin Farrell and Jessica Findlay make a superb romantic couple on screen. They look soulfully at each other in a way that melts your heart. I would be remiss not to mention the splendid look of the film. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel makes the most of wintry landscapes, moonlit nights, starry skies and period settings. Winter’s Tale may not be the easiest film to follow, but it’s one of the most visually stunning.  

SNOWPIERCER. Snow scenes and action in a fast train, oh my! This sci-fi movie takes place after Earth has suddenly become uninhabitable because of a disastrous global warming cure-all. Those who’ve survived are living aboard a train that keeps circling the same track at super-sonic speeds. The survivors are divided into a caste system, which a daring group finally rebels against. Great special effects enhance this exciting offering starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris. I was glued to my seat while watching the captivating journey unfold.  

ANNIE. In a refreshing update of the popular musical, our spunky heroine sports an Afro and the Daddy Warbucks character is now a wealthy candidate for mayor of New York City. Because these key roles are played by Quevenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, they are in excellent hands. Most of the musical numbers still make me want to join in -- especially “It’s a Hard Knock Life” -- and I felt in such a good mood after seeing this amusing, uplifting movie!    

LIFE’S A BREEZE. In this delightful Irish comedy, a grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and the youngest member (Kelly Thornton) of her extended family work together to save their other relatives who can’t seem to do anything right. This is a very funny -- yet touching - movie with the most amazing and hilarious twists and turns I’ve seen on screen in a long time.    

THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD. This fascinating true-life tale about the desire for fame and the price it demands stars Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn in his later years after the booze and legendary philandering have taken their toll. Kline talks like Flynn, swaggers like Flynn and simply BECOMES Flynn in this movie about the famous actor’s scandalous affair with star-struck teenager Beverly Aadland, portrayed oh-so convincingly by Dakota Fanning. Kline and Fanning are disturbingly spellbinding together here. But there’s more! As Beverly’s fame-obsessed mom Florence, Susan Sarandon almost runs away with the movie. And I loved every minute of it.

HONORABLE MENTION: Life Itself, Gone Girl, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 13 Sins, My Old Lady, X-Men Days of Future Past, Godzilla, The Face of Love, Hateship Loveship, The Calling, We Are the Best!

DISHONORABLE MENTION: Into the Woods, Under the Skin, Cheap Thrills, Authors Anonymous, Inherent Vice, The Zero Theorem, A Fantastic Fear of Everything

MOST MEMORABLE SCENE: Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader lip-synching “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in The Skeleton Twins