Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A quick post about "The Monuments Men"


I went to see the recently-released film The Monuments Men last night.   I hold a degree in History, so I've always been a fan of movies that are "based on a true story."

The Monuments Men tells the story of soldiers who rescued priceless works of art that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  It's a story that I wasn't very familiar with, it's nice that those soldiers (two of whom were killed during the war) are getting the respect they are owed for saving so many great paintings and sculptures.  Plus, it features an all-star cast that includes some of my favorite actors.  Here's the trailer:


So why am I writing about The Monuments Men on this blog?  It's not a "Holiday" movie, but it certainly feels like one during one scene.  I don't expect 100% accuracy in historical films, but when it comes to "Christmas Pop Culture-related accuracy", that's another story.
There's a nice moment that takes place during the Battle of the Bulge sequence.  The song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" plays over the PA system at the soldiers' camp.

Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) carry Christmas packages sent by their familes.
This scene rings true, as the song was very popular among members of the military during the 1944 Christmas season.
A little background info about the song:
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine. It was introduced in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis where it was performed by Judy Garland.



 The last verse was very relevant for families separated by war:
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

Those lyrics are often changed to "Through the years, we all will be together", but the sentiment remains the same.  Families were separated and forced to "muddle through" until war's end and they concretely identified with the song at Christmastime.

Since its introduction, the song has been covered by hundreds of artists and is one of the most popular Christmas songs.  In 1957, Frank Sinatra covered the song and believed that the "muddle through somehow" lyric wasn't "jolly" enough.  Sinatra asked the song's co-writer Hugh Martin to change it.  It was replaced with "Hang a shining star upon the highest bow".


Sinatra's version was very popular and most recordings of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" since then have used these lyrics. 

When the song is played in The Monuments Men...it contains the Sinatra lyrics.  Which, of course did not exist until 13 years AFTER the Battle of the Bulge.   I'm surprised that the film's director George Clooney (nephew of Rosemary Clooney, who also recorded the song) didn't catch that.

I still recommend the film, but the incorrect lyric sort of took me out of an otherwise touching scene.

For further reading about the real Monuments Men, check out their official site, monumentsmen.com

J.A.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Office: "St. Patrick's Day"

Michael Scott says "Top o'the mornin'" (in a horrible "Irish" accent) to Erin and the viewers.
Premiered March 11, 2010. 

"It is St. Patrick's Day.  And here in Scranton, that is a huge deal.  It is the closest that the Irish will ever get to Christmas."
-Michael Scott 

It's St. Patrick's Day and the staff of Dunder Miflin are decked out in green and in a festive mood.  Except for Angela (Angela Kinsey) who is wearing white and "protesting" St. Patrick's Day.  



Michael Scott (Steve Carell) wants to let everyone leave on time so they can gather at Shanny O'Gannigans, a nearby Irish pub, to celebrate and consume green booze.  But company CEO Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates) has other ideas.  

Erin (Ellie Kemper) gives out green M & M's, Michael calls them "Nature's Viagra."
Michael has been kissing up to Jo all day, telling her he can't wait to visit her in Florida.  (Jo made the mistake of issuing a polite "invitation" to visit, which Michael, naturally, takes to be sincere.)  She hangs around the Dunder Mifflin because she is a workaholic herself and hopes to encourage Michael to be a more productive manager.  As a result, none of the rest of the staff feels comfortable leaving before they do.

Jo Bennett with a friend.
Meanwhile, Andy (Ed Helms) and Erin are getting ready for their first date.  Darryl (Craig Robinson) finds himself promoted from the warehouse to a desk job.  And Dwight (Rainn Wilson) does battle with Jim (John Krasinski) over "MegaDesk."

Andy tries to impress Erin with his "kilt" (actually his sister's field hockey skirt!)
Will Michael summon up the courage and maturity to dismiss his employees?  Or will Jo's work habits ruin St. Patrick's Day for everyone?

J.A. Morris says:

This a good episode of The Office.  We get one of the rare signs that Michael has grown at all since the first season when he (sort of) stands up to Jo.  Of course he spends most of the episode acting like an idiot, saying inappropriate things about the staff, and kissing up to Jo, so his "growth" is relative.


But at least the workers get to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

Creed (Creed Bratton) and Meredith (Kate Flannery) dance a "jig".
The main problem I have with this episode is the same problem I have with most episodes.  The "documentary" concept is strained.  I'm not sure why a documentary about an "American Workplace" would spend so much time in the homes of the workers.

If you enjoyed The Office, you should revisit "St. Patrick's Day" now or on a St. Patrick's Day in the future.

J.A. Morris' rating:





3 shamrocks






RigbyMel says:

I don't know if I have a lot more to add to my co-blogger's comments above, but here are a few thoughts:

The Office trades on awkward situations and St. Patrick's Day (as presently celebrated in the U.S.) certainly has the potential to create awkwardness.    So, the holiday and the show are a good fit for each other.

Drinking green shots with co-workers on St. Patrick's Day -- is this really a good idea? 
I tend to enjoy the winking asides, lack of self-awareness of most of the characters and the ridiculous in-fighting between co-workers (particularly Dwight and Jim) more than the specific plots of most episodes of the series,  but this one is definitely entertaining to watch.    Elements of The Office are certainly recognizable to most people who've worked a desk job, although I do think that our band of office misfits probably hangs out after-hours a lot more than is common in most workplaces.   Most of us can relate to unreasonable demands from higher-ups like Jo,  even if the situation is exaggerated for comedic effect.

Jo holds a "town hall meeting" to solicit ideas from staff -- is this really a good idea? 
I liked this episode and the St. Patrick's Day elements serve to heighten the silliness.   It's worth re-visiting if you have the time or inclination.    This episode currently streams on Netflix, pops up in re-runs and is available on DVD.

RigbyMel's rating:






2 and a half shamrocks

The Crazy Ones: "March Madness"


Premiered  March 13, 2014

“Why would I have problem with a holiday that turns this entire town into a drunken frat party?  Where a man can’t walk 3 feet without someone vomiting green beer on his new Tod’s driving mocs. Where you’re asked to kiss someone based on their ethnicity.  Which is racist.”
-Simon Roberts on his dislike of St. Patrick's Day

Andrew shows the others a mock-up of his parade float which will have "undulating leaves"
It's St. Patrick's Day at the ad firm of Lewis, Roberts & Roberts, and art director Andrew Keneally (Hamish Linklater) is designing the company's charity float for the St. Patrick's Day parade.  His boss, Sydney Roberts (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tells Andrew and the rest of the staff that they are forbidden from mentioning St. Patrick's Day.  Her father (and their boss) Simon Roberts (Robin Williams) is a recovering alcoholic and now hates the holiday.

Here comes trouble ... !
That goes out the window when Andrew's six boisterous grade school teacher sisters arrive.  L,R&R's offices are on the parade route so they plan to celebrate "St. Patrick's week" by hanging around the office, getting drunk and staking out their parade post...for two days prior to the parade.  Surprisingly, Simon agrees to let them stay, despite Andrew's objections.

A pinch for the (St. Patrick's Day) grinch
Meanwhile, Krispy Kreme is auditioning actresses for its next commercial produced by the agency.  Their guy isn't happy with anyone until Sydney and Simon's assistant, Lauren (Amanda Setton) find themselves unexpectedly in competition to be the next Krispy Kreme spokeswoman.  


The Keneally sisters have a somewhat negative impact on the office.  Molly gropes Simon for not wearing green.  Katherine (Jamie Denbo) and Elaine (Jessica Chaffin) seem determined to get everyone drunk.

Elaine asks Sydney to sign her boob since she may be the next "Krispy Kreme girl"
Cute copy writer Zach Cropper (James Wolk) says he'll take them out drinking after work, mostly to get them out of Simon's hair.  This turns out to be an issue the next day.

Zach gets more than he bargained for.
Zach wakes up extremely hungover, with an injured eye and an elaborately painted face courtesy of the Keneally sisters.

Oh dear.
He's in no condition to do his job, which is unfortunate as he is part of an important client meeting which goes badly.

The Keneally sisters transform a mural of Simon into a lepre- ...
... CHAAAAUN!
On top of this, the sisters have taken Simon's giant Rock 'em  Sock 'em Robot outside and adorned it with shamrocks.

One doesn't mess with a man's giant robot
This is a bridge too far for Simon.  He orders all of the St. Patrick's Day paraphernalia removed from the premises.    

Plans are going awry.
The St. Patrick's Day charity float for the parade gets caught up in the shuffle and trashed,  which could spell PR disaster and unhappy children on St. Patty's Day.

Potentially disappointed children (including a "Tiny Tim" on crutches) and celebrity guest Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ! 
Will Simon be able to overcome his St. Patrick's grinch-ness and save the day?  Or will he stick a shillelagh somewhere the sun doesn't shine?

RigbyMel says:

This may well be the St. Patrick's Day-est television episode I have ever seen.  There's plenty of green and plenty of drunken hijinks.  It's quite enjoyable for the most part.  We see the raucous side of the holiday in full force.  


The Keneally sisters are pretty darned funny and their interactions with the various members of the ad firm really enhance the show's energy.   I also love that hard-partying,  off-duty grade school teachers help save the day in this episode.

"They're grade school teachers.  Masters of the hastily thrown-together art project!"
I also like the Grinch-y/Scrooge-y thing that happens with Simon during the course of this episode. It's nice that he is able to find his St. Patrick's Day spirit.  

Paper mache shamrock in progress! 
The resolution of the episode is sweet and funny and manages to tie everything that went before it together very nicely.  
Mild spoiler:  Everyone pitches in to make a great float for the parade.
My only real complaint is a problem I have with the series in general, an over-reliance on product placement. In this episode, it was Krispy Kreme, but I can think of many other examples from earlier episodes.  (As an aside, this also bugs me about Mad Men - which is also about an ad agency and also features James Wolk.)

Still the comedy and fun of this particular episode make it one of my favorites in the series.  It's one I'd definitely recommend checking out.   You can catch it online (at CBS.com) or on demand at the moment.

RigbyMel's rating:







3 and a half shamrocks

J.A. Morris says:
I can't add much to what my co-blogger said.  If I have any problems with "March Madness" it's the same problem I've had with every episode of this series.  It has One too many "random" for the sake of being random jokes or "weird" statements that are supposed to be funny, but fall flat.

Kareem was also looking forward to the "undulating leaves" on the float.
But this is the best episode of The Crazy Ones.  There aren't many St. Patrick's Day episodes (compared to Christmas & Halloween) and this will probably be one I watch in the future around March 17.

Molly & Andrew enjoy a beer;Wanna guess what the "gold" behind them is made of?
The Keneally sisters are the highlight of this episode, and if they had their own show, I'd watch it!  The entire ensemble is pretty good here too.  Robin Williams is restrained (well, as restrained as he can ever be!) and Sarah Michelle Gellar is a good "straight man."



All in all it's a lot of fun with plenty of seasonal trappings.

J.A. Morris' rating:






3 and a half shamrocks


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Lemon Drop Kid


Premiered March 8, 1951.
Note:The Lemon Drop Kid was released on this date in 1951, which is why we're blogging about a Christmas movie when it's nearly St. Patrick's Day.

Kid: "It's all the same to you whether Sam kills me now or doesn't open me 'til Christmas. And if I get the money you're 10 Grand ahead. You see, Moose, picking up 10 Grand will be fun for you and killing me will be so sloppy."

The Lemon Drop Kid gets inside information from a friend
Racetrack tout Sidney Milburn (Bob Hope), known as "The Lemon Drop Kid" due to his penchant for the candy, makes a living suckering tourists at the horse races.

Taking in a couple of suckers
But the Kid screws up when he steers a woman away from placing a winning bet.  It turns out she was betting on a horse on behalf of a dangerous gangster, Moose Moran (Fred Clark).  The Kid ends up costing Moran $10,000.  Moose puts a price on the Kid's head.  The Kid is so afraid that he tries to turn himself in to the police.

Moose wants his $10,000 back ... or else!
Moose confronts the Kid, tells him he owes him the $10,000.  Sidney begs Moose to give him until Christmas to get the money.  Moose says he wants the money by Christmas Eve, if not "you'll find your head in your stocking."  Moose has a casino in Long Island that is currently abandoned that he plans to reopen, the Kid can deliver the money there.

A snowy and windy day to be without a coat in NYC
The Kid goes to a frigid New York City and visits his old friend Nellie Thursday (Jane Darwell).  He begs her for money so he can get his winter clothes out of hock.

The Kid talks to Nellie Thursday
Nellie can't help him out as she is being evicted from her home and has recently been rejected from a nursing home because her husband is a convict.

The Kid and Brainey Baxter
Sidney then visits his girlfriend Brainey Baxter (Marilyn Maxwell) and hits her up for money.  However, he still owes Brainey for pawning her coat, so she's not eager to shell out more cash for him.  He proposes marriage to her and says he needs $10.00 for a wedding license.  Brainey complies, but it's just a ruse to get her money.  She's mad, but Brainey still loves the Kid.  

The Kid's initial Santa scheme gets busted
The Lemon Drop Kid notices all the sidewalk Santas collecting for charities in New York and gets an idea.  He gets a Santa suit and collects for his favorite charity, himself.  This earns him a night in jail.

The Kid calls Brainey to bail him out
When Brainey bails him out, the Kid revises his plans for a scam.


He obtains a charity license and claims that Moose's abandoned casino will be used a nursing home, with Nellie and some other "Old dolls" from her neighborhood moving in.  

Brainey and the Kid talk to some of the Old Dolls
Sidney recruits old acquaintances to dress as Santa and collect the funds.  Among the recruits are Gloomy Willie (William Frawley) and the Super Swedish Angel (Tor Johnson), a professional wrestler.  But the Kid doesn't tell any of his assistants that it's all a front so he can settle his debt with Moose.

The Kid inspects the Santas
 Small-time gangster Oxford Charlie (Lloyd Nolan) learns of the Kid's scam and decides to steal the money and take in the Old Dolls.  In the process, Brainey, Nellie and the rest learn that the Kid was lying the whole time about the nursing home.  He now has no friends and the Old Dolls will soon be out on the street.

The Kid disguises himself as an Old Doll.
Can the Lemon Drop Kid set things right for the Old Dolls?  Can he get back in Brainey's good graces? Will the Kid be able to make good on the $10,000 he owes Moose Moran?


J.A. Morris says:

I generally enjoy Bob Hope's onscreen persona.  From the 1930s to the 50s, he basically played the same character, an exaggeration of his stand-up comedy identity.   If you like Hope's movies from this era, you'll like The Lemon Drop Kid, if not you won't.  Hope is funny here, making the ne'er-do well Kid sympathetic. We believe Sidney is a "tout with a heart of gold."  I also enjoyed the Kid's interaction with Nellie Thursday. Hope and Jane Darwell made it feel like there was genuine affection between the two.  Marilyn Maxwell is good here too as Brainey, and she has a nice singing voice as well.

The Kid steals some clothes from a department store window.

In addition to the Santa scheme, Hope gets to perform some good physical comedy as well.  During a romantic scene with Brainey, the Kid scrambles to kiss her while simultaneously hiding his ill-gotten loot.  Another example comes when Sidney strips a mannequin of her clothes in a holiday display window, so he can use them as a disguised.

Sidney teases a policeman while singing "Silver Bells".
I'm a big fan of Damon Runyon's stories.  While The Lemon Drop Kid shares a title and title character with a Runyon story, it barely resembles its source material.  But the New York slang, names of the characters and their behaviors can certainly be described as Runyonesque.

The kid hits up Oxford Charlie for money.
The plot is hardly believable, but The Lemon Drop Kid a fun caper movie, with plenty of Christmas seasonal trappings.  I won't spoil the ending, but it won't shock you to find out this movie has a happy one.  While it's not as good as other classic holiday films of the era, it's still worth watching. There a few lines of what we might call "ethnic humor" today, but I've seen a lot worse in other old movies.

The Lemon Drop Kid & Brainey sing "Silver Bells"
I'm guessing that lots of people today don't know that "Silver Bells" was written for The Lemon Drop Kid. It's performed by Hope and Maxwell, with William Frawly chiming in for a few lines. Hope's friend and frequent co-star Bing Crosby became aware of the song during the film's production and recorded "Silver Bells" (as a duet with Carol Richards) prior to the film's release.  Speaking of Crosby, the last line of dialogue in The Lemon Drop Kid includes a joke directed at him.


Some notes about the supporting cast:
William Frawley appeared in numerous movies, but he's best remembered for playing Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy.  The Lemon Drop Kid was released just a few months before that series premiered. 

Gloomy Willie (Frawley) sings his own "Silver Bells" lyrics:
"Silver Bells
Silver Bells
Let's put some dough
In the kitty"
Nellie Thursday is played by Jane Darwell, who had a prolific career in films from 1914 until 1964, when she appeared in Mary Poppins.  Most famously, she won an Oscar for portraying Ma Joad in The Grapes Of Wrath.
Sidney recruits Super Swedish Angel.
Professional Wrestler-turned actor Tor Johnson plays the Swedish Angel, which was also his wrestling name in real life.  Fans of Ed Wood's movies will recognize Johnson from Plan 9 From Outer Space.

A snowy Christmas street scene.

The Lemon Drop Kid
wasn't something that was shown frequently on TV when I was growing up (I believe I saw it once about 30 years ago).  But in recent years, Turner Classic Movies has aired it at least once during December.  It's also available on dvd and can be streamed on Amazon.  

A Santa plays Craps for the Old Dolls home.
You might want to add it to your holiday viewing this Christmas season, especially if you're a fan of Bob Hope and "Silver Bells".

J.A. Morris' rating:







3 Candy Canes.

The Kid and Brainey sing to the Old Dolls
RigbyMel says:

This is a fun, but not a great Christmas movie.   Bob Hope is enjoyable as the title character and the supporting cast is top notch, but there's just something about the story that doesn't quite sit right with me. Maybe it's the straddling of the line between screwball comedy and pathos that doesn't quite work.  Maybe it's that the story feels a bit too much like Guys and Dolls (which is also based on Runyon's work) without being quite as satisfying as that musical.

The Kid finds a creative spot to hide the money!
The Santa Claus money raising scheme is a lot of fun to see play out and there is some great physical comedy involving hidden gambling tables at the abandoned casino/old dolls' home.  

Gambling tables double as beds for the Old Dolls and also disappear behind walls unexpectedly
But I never made the emotional connection with this movie that would enable me to call it a "classic."

Scruffy Santas
It's great fun, and it's historically important what with the introduction of the holiday standard "Silver Bells", but it's not a must-see.

RigbyMel's rating:







Two and a half candy canes