Lisa’s Editorial Corner: 10 Things For Which I Am Thankful In 2017


Well, it’s that time.

Every Thanksgiving, I come up with an even-numbered list of things for which I’m thankful.  I know some people are saying that we shouldn’t be thankful for anything this year.  These are the people who say that, because they’re miserable, it’s somehow offensive that everyone else isn’t miserable.

But you know what?

Fuck that.

No one tells me what to believe or whether or not I can celebrate a holiday.  That freedom is something that I’m very thankful for!  Here’s a few more things that I’ve been thankful for this year:

  1. I’m thankful for this site.  Arleigh Sandoc founded Through the Shattered Lens in December of 2009 and, about four months later, I posted my very first review on this site.  A lot has changed since that first review.  New contributors have added their own unique perspectives to this site and I’d like to think that, on a personal level, I’ve grown as a writer since I wrote that first review.  But one thing that has always remained consistent is just how much I love doing this.  I’ve posted over 4,000 posts on Through the Shattered Lens and I’ve had a blast writing every one of them!

2. I’m thankful for our readers.  Seriously, you are the ones who make all of this worthwhile.  We currently have somewhere around 28,000 subscribers and to each and every one of you, I say, “Thank you.”  Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting.  Just as I hope I’ve introduced some of you to some new movies, quite a few of you have also inspired me to take a second and third look at some of the films I’ve reviewed.

3. I’m thankful for all of the brave women (and men) who have shared their stories in an effort to make this world a safer place.

4. I’m thankful that this was the year of Twin Peaks.  On this site, starting with the original series and extending all the way through the end of the Showtime revival, we shared our thoughts on everything Twin Peaks this year.  Years from now, we’ll still be debating why Laura screamed.

5. I’m thankful that this has been a great year for genre films.  While so many of the year’s “prestige” films fell flat, 2017 will always be remembered as the year of War of the Planet of Apes, Wonder Woman, The Lego Batman Movie, Beauty and the Beast, Split Kong: Skull Island, Get Out, It, Spider-Man, The Big Sick, Logan, and Thor: Ragnorak.

6. I’m thankful for networks like TCM, which introduce classic movies to new viewers.

7. I’m thankful for my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang.  Every Saturday night, we watch a movie.  Sometimes the movie is bad and sometimes, the movie is really bad.  But we always have a blast.

8. I’m thankful that, in just another few weeks, I’ll be able to see The Disaster Artist.

9. I’m thankful for the artists who, in this time of rampant conformity, are still fighting to maintain their own unique and individual vision.

10. I’m thankful for Chinese food.  Seriously, who doesn’t love Chinese food?

Happy thanksgiving!

Here’s Looking at You On The Big Screen, CASABLANCA!


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Longtime readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite film. It’s blend of stars, supporting cast, script, direction, drama, romance, and humor is the perfect example of 1940’s Hollywood storytelling,  when Tinseltown was at the peak of its moviemaking powers . I’ve seen the film at least 80 times in many different formats, from broadcast television to cable and satellite, from VHS to DVD to DVR, but never before on the big screen – until this past Sunday, that is!

Fathom Events, in conjunction with TCM, presents classic films on a monthly basis in theaters across the country. In my area, they’re shown at Regal Cinemas in Swansea, MA, a half hour drive down the highway. I’ve been tempted to make the trip a few times, but never got around to it for one reason or another. But when I heard CASABLANCA was this month’s feature, I knew…

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Say Goodbye to Hollywood: RIP Robert Osborne of TCM


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“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne”.

Those four words, delivered in a smooth-as-honey voice, were delivered to classic films lovers watching TCM for over twenty years. Now that voice has been silenced, as fans learned today of Osborne’s death at the age of 84. He had been off our screens since early 2016 due to an undisclosed ailment, and we all eagerly hoped and prayed for his return. Alas, it’s not to be.

Robert Osborne wanted to be an actor when he first arrived in Hollywood in the 1950’s. He signed a contract with Desilu Studios, and soon began a close, lifelong friendship with superstar Lucille Ball. Osborne had small roles in episodic TV, and a couple of films (but I’d be hard-pressed to pick him out in SPARTACUS or PSYCHO), but his acting career went nowhere. Ball suggested he put his journalism degree from the University of Washington to good use, along…

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A Few Thoughts On The Passing of Robert Osborne


Robert Osborne, the longtime host of TCM, passed away today.  He was 84 years old.

I write those words with the heaviest of hearts.  I never met Robert Osborne.  I did not actually know Robert Osborne but, like a lot of classic film lovers, I felt as if I did.

Usually, I am not the most patient of film watchers.  When I show up for a movie, I want the movie to start as quickly as possible.  In theaters, I’m usually the one who is cursing under her breath during the whole spiel about how to safely exit in case of a fire.  I once got in trouble in a film class when the professor heard me muttering, “Shut up and start the movie.”

But, whenever I watched a movie on TCM, I always made sure to watch Osborne’s introduction.  It didn’t matter what movie he was introducing.  Over the years, I watched Robert Osborne introduce everything from acclaimed Oscar winners to quirky grindhouse features.  And, without fail, his introductions always made the viewing experience better.  It wasn’t just that he was knowledgeable.  It wasn’t just that he was erudite.  It was that he loved the films as much as I did.  Robert Osborne was just as happy to introduce a film directed by Jess Franco as he was to introduce one directed by William Wyler.  Regardless of genre, regardless of director, regardless of reputation, Osborne treated all films and all filmmakers with equal respect.  Today’s film community, so full of elitism and willful ignorance, could stand to learn a little from Robert Osborne.

I’m going to miss Robert Osborne.  In many ways, he was the mentor that every film lover wishes that they could have had.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will never stop watching TCM and Ben Mankiewicz is a wonderful host in his own right.

But I will never forget Robert Osborne and I imagine that I’ll never watch or discover another film on TCM without missing him and his articulate love for the movies.

The Films of Dario Argento: The Cat o’Nine Tails


(I’m using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all of the films of Dario Argento.  Yesterday, I reviewed The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.  Today, I take a look at The Cat o’Nine Tails.)

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In 1971, Dario Argento followed up the massive success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage with his second film as a director, The Cat o’Nine Tails.  While The Cat o’Nine Tails was another huge financial success, it’s never been as a critically acclaimed as Argento’s first film.  Argento, himself, regularly cites The Cat o’Nine Tails as being his least favorite of all of the films that he’s directed.

Much like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’Nine Tails is a giallo that uses it’s rather complicated mystery as an excuse (a MacGuffin, to quote Hitchcock) for several suspenseful set pieces, the majority of which end with someone suffering some sort of terrible fate.  In this case, a series of murders are taking place around a mysterious medical complex, the Terzi Institute.  The murders are connected to some research being done at the institute.  I’m not going to spoil things by revealing what exactly is being researched but I will say that the key to the mystery is vaguely ludicrous, even by the typically flamboyant standards of the giallo genre.

But, then again, so what?  The fact that the genre’s mysteries are often overly complex and feature solutions that don’t always make sense is actually one of the appeals of the giallo film.  You don’t really watch a giallo for the mystery.  You watch it to see how the story will be told.  Perhaps more than any other genre, giallo requires a director with a strong vision.

And, if nothing else, Argento has always had a strong directorial vision.  Even when you may disagree with the choices that he makes (and I’m sure we all wonder why, in his later films, Argento grew so obsessed with telepathic insects), you can’t deny that they’re always uniquely Argento.  Though the film never reaches the delirious heights of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’Nine Tails still has several strong set pieces.  There’s a sequence involving a poisoned glass of milk that I particularly appreciate.  And then there’s the long scene at the crypt, in which our two protagonists realize that they don’t really trust each other all that much.  And, of course, there’s the ending.  For a film that’s often dismissed as being lesser Argento, The Cat o’Nine Tails features one of Argento’s darkest endings.

The Cat o’Nine Tails is unique as being one of the only Argento films to regularly show up on TCM.  A lot of that is because The Cat o’Nine Tails is perhaps the least gory of all the films that Argento has made.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of death and mayhem.  There is.  Blood is spilled but it never exactly flows.  The Cat o’Nine Tails is an Argento film that you could probably safely watch with an elderly relative.  That’s not necessarily meant as a complaint.  It’s just an observation that, when compared to the panty murder in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage or the skewering in The Mother of Tears, Cat o’Nine Tails is definitely a toned down Argento film.

The other reason why The Cat o’Nine Tails is popular on TCM is because it stars none other than that classic film mainstay, Karl Malden.  Continuing the Argento tradition of featuring protagonists who aren’t sure what they’ve witnessed, Malden plays a former newspaper reporter who is now blind.  He teams up with another reporter (played by James Franciscus, who may not have been a great actor but who did have perfect hair) to solve the murders.  Franciscus has the eyes.  Malden has the brains.  And Malden’s niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), is largely present to provide the film with its final ironic twist.

Malden does a pretty good job in the role, too.  I’ve read some reviews that have complained that Malden overacts but actually, he gives the perfect performance for the material.  In fact, Malden’s unapologetically hammy performance contrasts nicely with the work of James Franciscus, which could  charitably be called subdued.  (Perhaps a better description would be dull…)

Cat o’Nine Tails may not be Argento’s best but I still like it.  If for no other reason, watch it for Malden and that wonderfully dark ending.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee and It’s Damn Important: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (dir by Charles Reisner)


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Last night, I really needed a break from thinking about this stupid, asinine presidential election that we have coming up here in the U.S.  Fortunately, TCM provided me with one by showing The Hollywood Revue of 1929!

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is probably one of the most obscure film to ever be nominated for best picture.  It’s a plotless collection of songs and comedy bits, all performed by actors who were under contract to MGM.  In fact, the movie might be best described as a two-hour commercial for MGM.  The message of the film seems to be: “Now that movies have sound, look what MGM can do!”

With the exception of Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney, every MGM star makes an appearance in Hollywood Revue.  Everyone sings a song and does a dance, even if some of them are better singers and dancers than others.  The revue is hosted by Conrad Nagel (who looks very dapper in a tux but still seems to be strangely uncomfortable with his hosting duties) and Jack Benny (who plays his violin and gets annoyed every time he’s interrupted by an MGM stock player).  Joan Crawford (who Nagal describes as being “one of my favorites”) sings, “Got A Feeling For You,” and she may be off-key but you can’t help but appreciate the fact that she’s doing her best.  Buster Keaton does a dance.  Laurel and Hardy perform a magic act that doesn’t go very well.  Marion Davies does a tribute to the military and I’m sure that, somewhere, William Randolph Hearst was smiling.  Chorus girls sit in the background and smile at the camera and, as someone who knows what it’s like to be in the chorus, I enjoyed watching as a few of the smarter and braver ones attempted to steal the audience’s attention away from the headliners.

At one point, Jack Benny reached into his suit jacket and revealed that a miniature version of actress Bessie Love was apparently living in the pocket.  He held Bessie in the palm of his hand and proceeded to have a conversation with her and all I could think about was the end of Mulholland Drive, when that tiny old couple cornered Naomi Watts in her apartment.  When Benny placed Bessie on the ground, she grew to normal height and sang a song.

During the second half of the film, silent screen star John Gilbert plays the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, opposite Norma Shearer.  First he does it in Shakespeare’s words and then he does it again in 1929 language.  Lionel Barrymore directs them.  Interestingly enough, Shearer (who was married to The Hollywood Revue‘s producer, Irving Thalberg) would later play Juliet in 1936’s Romeo and Juliet.  Barrymore, though best remembered as Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, actually was a prominent film director in 1929 and would even invent the boom mic.  As for Gilbert, legend has it that the Hollywood Revue was the first time that audiences actually heard him speak and they were so unimpressed with his voice that his career ended.  Having now seen Gilbert speak — well, he didn’t have the greatest or sexiest voice but he still sounded better than Jean Hagen did in Singin’ In The Rain.

Speaking of Singin’ In the Rain, that song was specifically written for Hollywood Revue!  The entire cast sings it at the end of the film.

Seen today, there’s something charming about how old-fashioned and corny The Hollywood Revue is.  I imagine that some people will laugh at it but, honestly, it’s still more entertaining than that stupid live version of The Sound of Music that they put on TV two years ago.  The Hollywood Revue is basically the classic film equivalent of a high school talent show, where everyone does their best and a good deal of the charm comes from seeing how silly it all is.  If you love TCM, you’ll enjoy seeing all the Golden Age performers trying to do their best.  If you don’t love TCM, then go to Hell.

The Hollywood Revue is usually listed as being a nominee for best picture.  Actually, the truth is a little bit more complicated.  For the 2nd annual Academy Awards, there were no nominees.  Instead, the awards were determined by a select committee and only the winners were announced.  Much like the Cannes Film Festival, no film received more than one award.  Broadway Melody (which starred Hollywood Revue‘s Bessie Love) was named best picture.

However, notes were kept of the committee’s meeting and those notes indicate that Hollywood Revue was considered as a possible pick for best picture.  Hence, Hollywood Revue is considered to be a best picture nominee even though there were no official nominees that year.

Anyway, if you’re a classic film lover, keep an eye out for Hollywood Revue the next time that it shows up on TCM!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Broadway Melody of 1936 (dir by Roy Del Ruth)


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It’s Oscar month and you know what that means!  It’s time for TCM to do their annual 31 Days of Oscars!  For the next 31 days, TCM is going to be showing movies that were nominated for and occasionally won Oscars.  This is a great month for me because it has long been my goal to see and review every single film that has ever been nominated for best picture.  Considering that close to 500 movies have been nominated, that’s no small task.  However, over the past four years, I have definitely made some progress, as you can see by clicking on this link and looking at a list of every single best picture nominee.  Thank you, TCM, for helping me get closer to my goal!

For instance, if not for TCM, how would I ever had the chance to watch Broadway Melody of 1936?  Broadway Melody of 1936 was one of the twelve films to be nominated for best picture of 1935 but it’s now largely forgotten.  When film loves discuss the best musicals of the 30s, it’s rare that you ever hear mention of Broadway Melody of 1936.

Technically, it can be argued that Broadway Melody of 1936 was the first sequel to ever be nominated for best picture, despite the fact that it has little in common with Broadway Melody, beyond taking place on Broadway and being nominated for best picture.  (Broadway Melody won the award.  Broadway Melody of 1936 lost to Mutiny on the Bounty.)  Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, Part II, Mad Max: Fury Road, Toy Story 3, and The Bells of St. Mary’s are all sequels that were nominated for best picture but Broadway Melody of 1936 did it first.

As for what Broadway Melody of 1936 is about … well, it’s really not about anything.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  The film has a plot.  Irene Foster (Eleanor Powell) wants her former high school boyfriend, Broadway director Robert Gordon (Robert Taylor), to cast her in his new show but Gordon refuses because he doesn’t want the innocent Irene to be exposed to the sordid world of show business.  Fortunately, Irene has some allies who are willing to help her get that role.  Ted Burke (Buddy Ebsen) is an appealingly goofy dancer who, at one point, wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.  Bert Keeler (Jack Benny) is a columnist who rattles off his “New Yawk cynical” dialogue in the style of most 1930s news reporters.

Broadway Melody of 1936 has a plot but it’s not really that important.  The story is just an excuse for the songs and the dance numbers.  And while none of the numbers are spectacular (especially when compared to other 30s musicals, like 42nd Street), they are all definitely likable.

Seen today, Broadway Melody of 1936 seems like an odd best picture nominee.  It’s not bad but there’s nothing particularly great about it.  To truly appreciate the film, it’s probably necessary to try to imagine what it was like to watch the film in 1935.  At a time when the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression, Broadway Melody of 1936 provided audiences with an escape.  Audiences could watch the film and imagine that they, just like Eleanor Powell, could leave behind the dullness of reality and find stardom in the glamorous and glitzy world of Broadway.

Never doubt the power of escapism.

 

2015 In Review: 16 Good Things I Saw On Television


Last night, as I was trying to write up my annual list of the good things that I saw on TV during the previous year, I realized that I was struggling a bit to come up with enough entries to justify doing a list.  The more I thought about it, the more apparent it became that I watched a lot less TV than usual last year.

(Though I did manage to watch a lot of Lifetime movies…)

Furthermore, when I do think about what I saw on television last year, a lot of my memories deal with being annoyed.  I find myself fixating on those terrible Liberty Mutual Insurance Commercials and that stupid advertisement where they wouldn’t stop saying, “The Tobin Stance…” and especially that Taco Bell commercial with those horrible hipsters, Mary and Dominic, talking about how much they love breakfast tacos.

BLEH!

But, that said, there were still a few things worth praising!  (Hope is never totally lost…)  And here they are in no particular order:

1) South Park Had One Of Its Greatest Seasons Ever!

Seriously, 2015 saw South Park have one of its greatest seasons ever.  Trey and Matt took on the excesses of PC Culture and ended up providing one of the most important and incisive critiques of 21st Century America ever.  At a time when political and cultural criticism is growing increasingly dreary and predictable, South Park delivered a much-needed jolt to the system and reminded of us why satire and humor are so important in the first place.  Perhaps the best part of this season was watching dreary PC-obsessed critics desperately trying to figure out how to praise this season without acknowledging that they were the ones being satirized.

2) UnReal

One of the best shows on television premiered on the Lifetime network.  UnReal took us behind the scenes of a Bachelor-type series and provided the ultimate take down of reality television.  I love reality TV but I loved UnReal even more.

Enjoy Jacksonville, Ash.

3) Ash vs. Evil Dead

Save us, Groovy Bruce!

4) Agent Carter

Agent Carter didn’t get as much attention as it deserved during its 8-episode short season.  I loved the show’s retro look, I loved the way it satirized 40s style sexism, I loved the dashing Dominic Cooper as Iron Man’s father, and most of all, I loved Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter!  The overrated Supergirl has been getting a lot of attention as an empowering comic book show but honestly, Agent Carter did it first, did it with style and wit, and did it a 100 times better.

5) Show Me A Hero

At times, this HBO miniseries was a bit too heavy-handed for my taste.  But overall, it was a fascinating look at municipal politics and racism up north.  (Yes, there are racists up north, as much as people refuse to admit it.)  Plus, Oscar Isaac gave a great performance as an initially idealistic politician who is literally destroyed by his attempt to do the right thing.

6) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

HBO pretty much fell apart this year (The Brink?  Ballers?) but, fortunately, Netflix was there to offer up some of the best original programming of the year.  Kimmy Schmidt is brilliantly hilarious and gives Elle Kemper a role that is finally worthy of her talents.

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7) Jessica Jones

Again, who needs Supergirl when you’ve got Jessica Jones?

8) Glenn lived on The Walking Dead!

Actually, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  To be honest, having Glenn survive that zombie attack totally goes against everything that The Walking Dead previously stood for.  After all, this was the show where anyone could die.  It didn’t matter if you were likable or popular or if the sight of you being ripped into pieces would traumatize the viewers.  Under the previously established rules of the show, Glenn should have died.  And yet, he didn’t.  And I can’t complain because, seriously — was anyone really ready to see Glenn die?  That said, if Glenn somehow escapes certain death a second time, it’ll be a problem.

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9) Degrassi Was Picked Up By Netflix!

Oh my God, I was so upset when I heard that my beloved Degrassi would no longer be airing on TeenNick.  I’ve always said that the day when there were no more episodes of Degrassi would be the day that I would finally have to admit to being an adult.  Fortunately, Netflix picked up Degrassi so I got to put off adulthood for at least another year.

10) More Old People TV Networks

I’m a history nerd so I love all of these TV networks that only show reruns of old people TV shows.  I may never get to personally experience what it was like to be alive in the 1970s but I can a rerun on an Old People TV Network and get a taste.  And happily, it seems like there’s a new Old People TV network every day!  Seriously, I’m getting quite an education.

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11) Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci on TCM

Last year, they showed both Shock and The House By The Cemetery on TCM!  Finally, Bava and Fulci are getting the respect they deserve.  Now, if only TCM would show a Jean Rollin film…

12) Speaking of TCM…

Actually, I just love TCM in general.  It’s without a doubt the greatest thing in the world!

13) Debate Counter-Programming

Seriously, I am so happy that there is always something else for me to watch while everyone else in the world is watching a Presidential debate.  My main fear is that, in the future, all of the networks will decide to simultaneously air the debates (like they occasionally do with charity fund raisers) and there will be no escape from the droning emptiness of it all.

(Seriously, I could imagine them doing it.  “These debates are damn important…”  Whatever.)

14) One of my tweets appeared on TV!

Seriously that was pretty neat, even if I did turn out to be 100% incorrect in my prediction.

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15) I trashed The Leisure Class and sent at least one troll into a rage spiral!

Seriously, never underestimate how much some people love the unlovable!  My oddly controversial review of the Project Greenlight film really rubbed some people the wrong way.  That some people felt so strongly about it is both alarming and amusing.

16) Dancing Sharks at The Super Bowl!

That was in 2015, wasn’t it?

Dance, Shark, dance!

Dance, Shark, dance!

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my look back at 2015 with my ten favorite non-fiction books of the year!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2015:

  1. Valerie Troutman’s 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw in 2015
  2. Necromoonyeti’s Top 15 Metal Albums of 2015
  3. 2015 In Review: The Best of SyFy
  4. 2015 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  5. 2015 In Review: Lisa’s Picks For The 16 Worst Films of 2015
  6. 2015 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 10 Favorite Songs of 2015

 

2014 In Review: 20 Good Things That Lisa Saw On TV In 2014


So, I’m sitting here and I’m trying to make out my annual list of good things that I saw on TV over the previous year and I’ve just realized something.

I did not watch as much TV as usual last year.

It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part.  Up until this very moment, I was actually thinking that I watched too much TV last year.  But, honestly, 2014 was a busy year for me.  Between work and dance and family and romance and writing and seeing movies and shopping and being sick and getting well and the manic states and the depressive states, I just didn’t have as much time as usual to devote to television.

In fact, the only shows that I always made it a point to watch were two reality shows and that was mostly because I write about them over at the Big Brother Blog and the Survivor Blog.

That takes me by surprise because I love television.  I’ve never made any secret of that fact and I’ve never felt guilty about it.  When I’m writing, I find it helps to have the TV on in the background.  As well, knowing that a certain show is always going to be on at a certain time tends to help me deal with my Obsessive Compulsive tendencies.  I’ve always felt that, in a perfect world, I would have my own TV network.  It would be called the Lisa Marie Network (LMN) and I would be in charge of programming every single minute.

But, for whatever reason, in 2014, I didn’t watch as much as usual.  So, don’t consider the list below to be a comprehensive list of everything that was good on television last year.  Instead, consider it to just be 20 good things that I was lucky enough to see.

So, here’s the list!

1) Too Many Cooks on Adult Swim

You knew that I’d have to start out with this one, especially considering that I still find myself randomly singing the theme song.  “When it comes to the future, you can never have too many cooks!”

2) Figure Skating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

I actually enjoyed watching most of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  (Except, of course, when Bob Costas was there with his fucked up eye.)  But what I especially loved was watching the figure skating.  How couldn’t you love the chemistry between Charlie White and Meryl Davis or the amazing grace of Yulia Lipnitskaya or Ashley Wagner’s refusal to hide her disgust with the judges?

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 1

3) Veep

Without a doubt, the funniest show on television.  Anyone who idolizes a politician should be forced to watch it.

4) Community ended its network run on a decent note

After a rough fourth season, Community made a comeback of sort during the fifth season.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep NBC from canceling the show but still, it was good to see a few more decent episodes of Community before the show moved over to Yahoo.

5) True Detective

True Detective has been praised so much that I really don’t have much more to say about it, beyond the fact that I found it to be endlessly fascinating.

6) Sharknado 2!

So, I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the first Sharknado.  (I was even less of a fan of the way the media seemed to believe that Mia Farrow was the first person to ever live tweet a movie, especially considering how lame most of Mia’s Sharknado tweets were.)  But I loved Sharknado 2!  Sharknado 2 was everything that the first Sharknado was supposed to be and more!

IZ in Sharknado 2

7) The Old People TV Networks

This is the year that I really made an effort to explore all of the channels that I have available to me.  What I discovered is that there are a lot of stations that are apparently dedicated to exclusively showing shows that were made long before I was even born!  For a history nerd like me, coming across these networks is a bit like accidentally digging up a time capsule.  Add to that, I’ve discovered that old TV shows make for perfect background noise.  I call these networks the Old People TV networks but I do so with affection.

8) Seeing my friend and fellow movie blogging Irish gal Kellee Pratt in the audience whenever TCM rebroadcasts that interview with Maureen O’Hara.

9) Opposite Worlds on SyFy

Opposite Worlds was a reality show that was broadcast on the SyFy Network.  Contestants were divided into two tribes.  One tribe lived in the luxurious future, complete with a fully automated house.  The other tribe lived in the past, which basically meant wearing furs and staying in a cave.  The two tribes competed every week.  Many contestants were seriously injured.  I was hoping that Samm would win, mostly because I share her struggle.  But I was okay with Frank eventually winning.  He turned out to be a nice guy.

(By the way, SyFy, I’m still waiting for a second season…)

10) Bates Motel

Bates Motel got better and better during its second season.  I still think Olivia Cooke needs a spin-off where she solves crimes.

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11) True Blood ended before it totally went the way of Dexter.

To be honest, True Blood was definitely showing signs of its age.  I wasn’t really happy with the final season but I was relieved to see that it still ended on a better note than Dexter did.

12) Flowers in the Attic

2014 got off to a great start with Flowers in the Attic, one of the best movies to ever show up on Lifetime.

13) Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

In fact, the only that kept Flowers in the Attic from being the best Lifetime movie was the fact that Lizzie Borden premiered a week later.

Lizzie

14) The Way The Saved By The Bell and Aaliyah Movies Brought Us Together As A Nation

For two nights, our often troubled country was united by the power of mass snarkiness.

15) Coverage Of The Fact That Paul Rosalie Was Not Eaten Alive

There was something greatly satisfying about how, after spending weeks promising that he would be, Paul Rosalie failed to be eaten alive by an anaconda.  I think one reason I especially enjoyed this fact that I didn’t actually watch the special.  I thought the whole thing sounded stupid and crass.  That made the subsequent ridicule all the more satisfying.

16) Key and Peele

Without a doubt, the funniest sketch comedy program on TV today.

17) Talking Dead

To be honest, the only reason I watch The Walking Dead is so I’ll be able to understand what they’re talking about on The Talking Dead.

18) Daft Punk At The Grammys

It was great to see the Robots enjoying themselves.

Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers

19) Weather On The Local News

“Folks, we’ve got a storm system approaching but don’t worry.  Channel 4 will keep your 4warned…”  Some things never change.  I’ve reached the point where I can find the humor in watching our local meteorologists panic every time that it starts to rain.  This past year, whenever I was stuck inside while a light drizzle fell outside, I knew that Pete Delkus, Larry Mowery, and David Finfrock would be there to amuse me with their dire warnings of a weather apocalypse.

"A storm's coming!"

“A storm’s coming!”

20) Degrassi!

Degrassi endures.  And we’re all the better for it.

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On one final note: GetGlue, R.I.P.  For five years, I enjoyed checking into tvs, movies, books, and emotions on GetGlue.  Sadly, GetGlue (or TV Tag as it came to be known) went offline on January 1st.  Goodbye, GetGlue.  It was fun while it lasted and I’ll always remember that week when me and that guy from Indonesia were violently fighting over who would get to be the guru of pepper spray. (GGers will understand.)

Tomorrow, my look back at 2014 continues with my ten favorite novels of the year!

Previous Entries In The TSL’s Look Back At 2014:

  1. Things Senor Geekus Dug In 2014 Off The Top Of His Head
  2. 2014 In Review: The Best of Lifetime and SyFy
  3. 2014 In Review: Lisa’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2014
  4. 2014 In Review: 14 of Lisa’s Favorite Songs of 2014
  5. 2014 in Review: Necromoonyeti’s Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014

Lisa Reviews The Oscar Nominees: Nicholas and Alexandra (dir by Franklin J. Schaffner)


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(Depending on how much you know about world history, the review below may contain spoilers.)

It was nearly four years ago that I decided that my goal in life was to watch and review every single film — no matter how obscure or potentially disappointing — that had ever been nominated for best picture.  Of course, that’s not my only goal.  If anything, I may have too many, often contradictory goals in my life.  But seeing all of the best picture nominees was definitely one of them and, all these years later, it’s a goal that I’m still trying to achieve.  With the help of TCM and their nonstop schedule of movies made long before I was born, it’s also a goal on which I am slowly but surely making progress.

Last night, as I scrolled through the guide, I noticed that TCM would be showing Nicholas and Alexandra, a three and a half hour film from 1971.  Now normally, I would be hesitant about watching a film that long, if just because I have ADHD and I doubt I’d be able to concentrate on it.  In a theater, watching the action unfold on a big screen, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, it’s totally different when you’re talking watching a movie on TV in a house that is full of potential distractions.  Add to that, Wednesday night is when I usually watch shows like Survivor, Hell’s Kitchen, and South Park.

But, here’s the thing.  The title Nicholas and Alexandra sounded familiar to me and not just because I’m an obsessive history nerd.  I did some checking and I discovered that, regardless of how obscure the film may be today, Nicholas and Alexandra was nominated for best picture.  It lost to The French Connection but it was nominated.

So, of course, I had to watch it.

And you know what?

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It’s not a terrible movie.  It’s certainly not great.  It has multiple flaws and it’s hard to imagine this film being nominated alongside films like The French Connection, Last Picture Show, and A Clockwork Orange.  Watching the movie, I got the feeling it was probably nominated because it was a big, expensive epic and not because it was one of the best of the year.  But, if you stick with the film (which, if we’re going to be honest here, is much easier said than done), it’s not quite as disappointing as you might expect it to be.

Nicholas and Alexandra tells the story of the last monarch of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston).  Struggling to escape the shadow of his father and incapable of understanding what life is like for those not born into royalty, Nicholas is portrayed as being well-meaning but autocratic and blind to the fact that the days of royalty are rapidly coming to an end.  His wife, Alexandra (Janet Susman) is also unpopular with both the Russian citizenry and the royal court on account of being German.

Alexandra spends most her time doting on her youngest son, Alexei, who suffers from hemophilia.  When a flamboyant Serbian monk named Rasputin (Tom Baker) claims that he has the power to heal Alexei, Alexandra immediately brings him into the court.  Soon, rumors are flying across Russia about Rasputin’s relationship with Alexandra.

Meanwhile, men with names like Lenin (Michael Bryant), Trotsky (Brian Cox), and Stalin (James Hazeldine) are plotting to lead a “worker’s revolution…”

If you know anything about history, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal what happens in the second half of Nicholas and Alexandra.  (And if you’re not into history, you probably would not have any interest in watching the movie in the first place.)   Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, plunging the entire world into war.  Russia declares war on Germany and the German-born Alexandra becomes even more unpopular than before.  The rest of the royal court, jealous over the mad monk’s influence, plots against Rasputin.  The Tsar is forced from the throne and Nicholas and his family spend their last days as captives of the people they once ruled.  Now a powerless prisoner, Nicholas finally starts to understand the world beyond his palace walls.  However, in the end, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, and their loyal servants are taken into a small room and violently executed.  End of movie.

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So, there are a lot of things wrong with Nicholas and Alexandra.  Not the least of the film’s problem is an unwieldy length and generally slow pace.  (The film was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who also directed the still-fun original Planet of the Apes.  Little of the flair he brought to Planet of the Apes is present here.)  This is one of those films that is full of incident with various characters popping up and discussing the intricacies of international politics with little concern as to whether or not any of this is the least bit cinematic or even compelling on a narrative level.  The film has a huge cast but very few memorable characters.

Even worse is that neither Nicholas nor Alexandra never come across as being all that interesting.  The film makes the case that Nicholas’s downfall was largely a result of him being unlucky enough to rule at a time when people across Europe and Asia were rejecting the old ways for the new ways of revolution and industrialization.  Nicholas is continually portrayed as being well-meaning but isolated and that has the potential to be interesting but, at times, the film feels almost as emotionally detached as its characters.

That said, Nicholas and Alexandra does work as a spectacle, as a showcase for beautiful clothing and ornate scenery.  As a character study, Nicholas and Alexandra largely fails but, as a fashion show, it’s actually a lot of fun.    Early on in the film, there’s a lengthy sequence in which Nicholas and Alexandra walk down the red-carpeted hallways of their palace.  It’s shot through Nicholas’s eyes and we see a collection of guards and noblemen and women standing to the side and bowing their heads as the Tsar and his wife walk past.  It’s a good scene and one that perfectly shows not only the life that Nicholas is used to but also why Nicholas doesn’t want to change that life.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, the first two hours of Nicholas and Alexandra work best when they focus on the flamboyant character of Rasputin.  Baker does a really go job as Rasputin, delivering all of his lines with a ferocious intensity while staring with obviously unhinged eyes.  When he’s with Alexandra, Rasputin is calculating and coldly conniving, providing just enough comfort to keep her under his control.  When he’s with Nicholas or any of the other male members of the court, he reveals himself to be an arrogant libertine, making profane jokes and bragging about his conquests.  It’s a really good performance but, as with so many other good performances in this film, it occasionally gets lost in the film’s dense production.

The best moments of Nicholas and Alexandra come towards the end, with the humbled Nicholas finally revealing his humanity and the Tsar’s family struggling to maintain their dignity even as their inevitable fate approaches.  At this point, the performers came to life.  The film suddenly had an emotional resonance.  It finally became about something!  For those final 20 or so minutes, Nicholas and Alexandra suddenly seemed worthy of being awarded.

In fact, based on those final 20 minutes, I would even be willing to see a sequel called Nicholas and Alexandra and Rasputin Makes Three.  

(Though I’m not sure how that sequel could ever be made.  As @Kev1Media pointed out when I suggested it on twitter, Adam Sandler would have to be somehow involved.)

As for Nicholas and Alexandra, it’s not a great film but if you’re into history or you’re an Oscar completist like me, the film has its occasional charms.  You just have to be willing to look for them.

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