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Manhattan (1979)

Too many people today look at Woody Allen’s 1979 “Manhattan” for evidence of the filmmaker’s alleged perversions. After all, his character in the film is a 42-year-old having a relationship with a 17-year-old girl played by Mariel Hemingway – and wouldn’t logic dictate that everything Allen does on screen is autobiographical?

In reality, this aspect of “Manhattan” is the least troubling, if only because of Allen’s epicene persona offers nothing in the way of sexual manipulation or aggression and Hemingway’s sing-song line-readings and bland presence gives the impression of a girl who is absent from her surroundings. Their coupling is the least credible and least emotionally satisfactory aspect of the film, and when they are together on screen there is little in the way of “Ick” and too much in the way of “Zzzzz.”

The real problem with “Manhattan” is that it feels like a mean-spirited parody of Allen’s “Annie Hall,” with similar themes angrily recycled until they become numbingly sour. Once again, Allen is a television comedy writer who deplores his work and aches to be taken seriously as a writer. And, yet again, he has unpleasant residue from an earlier marriage – in this case, his wife (Meryl Streep) left him for a woman and has penned a book that plumbs the details of their failed union. There is also another tall and successful sidekick, in this case Yale (Michael Murphy), who primarily serves as the straight man to Allen’s one-liners and wisecracking. And as with “Annie Hall,” the central character is a shabby Pygmalion whose Galatea leaves him in vague pursuit of a show business future.

There is one new aspect in “Manhattan” that came to define least appealing tenet of Allen’s output: the demanding, emotionally needy, exasperating woman who effectively poisons whatever warmth and love has existed around her. Here, it is played by Diane Keaton, who at least manages to inject a micro-level of warmth into a badly-written character.

Much of the joy of “Annie Hall” involved Allen’s Groucho-level puncturing of the intellectual pretensions of New York’s pedantic sophisticates. In “Manhattan,” Allen becomes what he hated in the earlier film – endless literary and cultural references pepper the conversation but add little spice in way of humor or irony, creating an environment of smarty-pants intellectuals whose conversation fails to clothes their emotional shallowness. A running gag has Keaton referring to her character’s Philadelphia roots voicing mock outrage with an intellectual affront – it never generates a laugh, no matter how often she repeats the line. Ultimately, the characters are bogged down by their selfishness and immaturity – it is impossible to be intrigued with their neuroses because they are so damn unlikable.

“Manhattan” has been critically praised for Gordon Willis’ widescreen black-and-white cinematography and Allen’s use of George Gershwin’s music to capture the essence of the fabled borough. But at the end of the film, one has to ask: whose Manhattan is it? Allen and his characters parade around as if they own the place, but in reality their whining and posturing makes them seem like dreary shadows on the sidelines of a greater urban drama. They are, ultimately, the one thing that Manhattan is not: boring.

Cinema Crazed Holiday Gift Guide: Our Suggestions for the Respective Geek or Movie Lover

It’s that time of year, the time where we rush out to buy presents for our loved ones for Christmas, or Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, or Festivus. Or whatever you celebrate. To ease the troubles of looking for something special for that nephew you’ve only met two times in the last ten years, but know he likes movies… we have suggestions for you!

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Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

I think one of the many reasons why “Silent Night, Deadly Night” has remained a cult classic is because it’s anything but a simple slasher film. While many movies in the eighties were content with maybe just a movie about a hacking and slashing Santa, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is memorable for being so insane. It’s a wacky, weird, mean spirited and demented horror movie with hints of dark comedy sprinkled in. The tonal inconsistencies and almost rapid fire highs and lows of the narrative make it such a horror oddity that you can’t help but love it. There are just about five movies in one, and all of them are pretty entertaining in their own right.

Hell, Linnea Quigley even appears for a moment because—the eighties…?!

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Ricardo Cortez: The Magnificent Heel

During the 1920s and 1930s, Ricardo Cortez was one of Hollywood’s most versatile leading men. His best known films include D.W. Griffith’s “The Sorrows of Satan,” Greta Garbo’s first American film “Torrent” and the original 1931 version of “The Maltese Falcon.” In this episode of “The Online Movie Show,” we celebrate the life and career of this remarkable talent with Dan Van Neste, author of the book “The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez.”

The episode can be heard here.

“The Online Movie Show” is produced at Platinum Wolfe Studios.

“The Family Stone” is a Personal Christmas Favorite

Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone” is that movie that takes from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and in many ways feels like a tribute to that very film. It’s still about acceptance and coming to terms with growing up, in the end. Except rather than the central theme being acceptance of race, the subtext revolves around a liberal brood accepting a conservative opposite as one of their own. It’s a rich, touching, sometimes painful look at the highs and lows of family, challenging our own perceptions, and dealing with an impending loss. The question that lingers in “The Family Stone” is not whether the matriarch of their very tight knit middle class brood can survive breast cancer, but whether the family can survive losing her.

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The Bootleg Files – Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music

BOOTLEG FILES 616: “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music” (filmed version of award-winning 1981 Broadway show).

LAST SEEN: It is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A VHS release in 1984.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Most likely due to music rights clearance issues.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It’s possible.

In March 1980, Lena Horne announced that she would be retiring from show business. That did not last very long. In May 1981, she was back in what became the crowning commercial achievement of her long and often tumultuous career: the Broadway production “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.” The show ran for 333 performances, earned Horne a special Tony Award, then successfully toured North America and played in the West End to standing ovations.

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The Colgate Comedy Hour: Abbott & Costello – The Christmas Show (1952)

Originally airing on December 14, 1952 for the Colgate Comedy Hour, Abbott and Costello get to celebrate Christmas with the viewing audience and have a raucous time doing so. As with all Abbott and Costello comedy, the show moves at a rapid fire pace with consummate professionals Bud Abbott and Lou Costello having an impossible time staying still and taking a breather. Despite some segues here and there which were very typical of variety shows in the height of their popularity (there’s a wonderful dance routine by the Nicholas Brothers). Lou Costello is brilliant at reaction shots and double takes, and Bud Abbot is a wonderful straight man and foil. Also like skilled comedians, they make the best out of flubs.

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

If there’s only one person who could have played Mildred Hayes, it’s Frances McDormand. McDormand is enormous in the role of Mildred Hayes, a flawed but fierce protagonist who is so rock solid, but shattered underneath what she eventually reveals to be a pure façade. One of the greatest moments in McDormand’s turn is the moment when she battles to save her trio of billboards as they inexplicably go up in flames. The battle is futile, but to her it’s everything. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a poetic, and occasionally darkly funny film about revenge, as well as the fallout and the ripple effect that reactionary anger to tragedy can have. Much of Mildred Hayes’ life since we met her has been spent with a lot of anger and fury, and she’s been kept awake by the nagging notion that she may never get resolution on one horrendous period of her life.

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