OSCAR 2022

Oscar 2022 is upon us (Sunday, March 27th to be exact) and even though I’ll be watching, it will be done with less enthusiasm than in years past. Because the Academy is always doing things to improve ratings, especially among younger viewers, they are constantly changing things that in my opinion are NOT for the better. It’s been stated that several awards will not be aired this year, such as Best Film Editing, in the interest of time and glamour quality. What a stupid idea! It was bad enough when they decided to not air the Life Achievement Awards a few years back, opting instead for a montage of it as a separate event. How the hell are people going to know the important contributions of the individuals awarded for their work if it’s not aired? Geez, don’t get me started!
   As I said, I will be watching Oscar 2022, but the greatest misgiving I have are the films that are up for the major awards.  It seems to me the choices each succeeding year get more and more lackluster.

Back in the day, say when Lee Marvin won his Oscar (smooth segue, doncha think?) the films and the performances were worthy and memorable. Oh, speaking of Lee Marvin, the night he won was full of surprises as you can read here. But I digress.
 Here’s my issue with the current crop of nominees. Granted I have not seen the majority of them but of the ones I have seen….
Nightmare Alley: Was very much looking forward to this remake as I love the original and the art direction looked superb in the trailers. Finally watched it the other other night and was sadly disappointed. Why? The supporting cast was excellent but lead actor Bradley Cooper was woefully miscast. Where’s the charm he should exhibit when playing the high-class mentalist in the classy nightclubs? He registered zero or any charisma, even as a carny. Sad but true.
Licorice Pizza: Also was looking forward to this one as I truly enjoy the work of director P.T. Anderson. What an amazing disappointment! Again, the lead actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper Hoffman cannot act, period. The plot had enough gaping holes in it you could drive a truck through them (how the hell does an underage teen get enough seed money to start 3 different business enterprises?!?). Bradley Cooper was infinitely better in his glorified cameo than in Nightmare Alley but the best scene he had, running amok in the gas station as shown in the trailer, was cut from the final film! Oh, please!!
West Side Story: Unlike a lot of other film purists, I was actually looking forward to this one as well, but once again, was soundly disappointed. Could not tell the Sharks from the Jets; the friendship between Tony & Riff was non-existent; the songs seemed out-of-place among the new story threads; Tony & Maria had no chemistry whatsoever. Saving grace? Rita Moreno given the song “There’s a Place For Us” in a touching and poignant rendition. Was she even nominated? Of course not.
The Power of The Dog: Due to the previous awards shows, this one is considered this year’s front runner. No, I haven not seen it…yet. I probably will eventually but it’s not something I’m excited about per se, despite the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch. Why? As several others have said, it just seems like pure Oscar bait.
Okay, so where does that leave us? Sadly, even more disappointed than before. You know why? The single best film I saw last year, and I do mean best, is not eligible to be nominated for Best Picture based on Academy rules. Look, if foreign language films can now be nominated, and animated films can too, why not documentaries? They are some of the best films made every year! If they did allow it, Summer of Soul would win in a walk! Yeah, it’s just that damn good! So much for Oscar 2022.

– Dwayne Epstein

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MY FAVORITE FILM FIGHT SCENES, PART 2 OF 5

My Favorite Film Fight Scenes, Part 2 of 5
As stated in the first installment, writing Lee Marvin Point Blank gave me a new appreciation for movie fight scenes. In this installment, my favorite film fight scenes, Part 2 of 5, the 1950s and early 1960s are rightfully represented….

6. IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER -1955

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

(L-R) Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey & MIchael Kidd survery the damage they wreaked aftet their brawl on live TV.

Let’s be honest, You’re infinitely more likely to see somebody sing and dance down the street then you’ll ever see an intergalactic space battle or caped crusader. Yet the latter rules the current box-office while the former has been relegated to the dustbin of time as being phoney and unrealistic. That’s a shame for many reasons, not the least of which is the amount of talent and ingenuity being wasted by not producing any more original film musicals which was once the bread-and-butter of the industry.
One of the best and least appreciated of the genre was the atypical, It’s Always Fair Weather. Three war buddies vow to remain friends and meet 10 years later only to find they have absolutely nothing in common. Not the plot of a ‘How-are-we-going-to-get-the-show-on’ musical, but an interesting character study that also pokes satirical fun at Madison Ave, professional sports, and most of all that new stranger in the house, television. Gene Kelly had at first thought it would be a sequel to On The Town but opted instead for a dance extravaganza with atheletic Dan Dailey, leggy Cyd Charisse and bite-sized Michael Kidd. I could go on about the greatness of this forgotten classic (it’s the one in which the 3 leads dance with trash-can lids on their feet and Kelly solos on roller skates) but since this about fight scenes check out this movies’ amazing climax. Since all fight scenes are essentially choreographed, who better to show off their prowes in their field than 3 of the best dancers in movie history? Kidd especially shines with rapid movements in, out, down and around the fight but Kelly and Dailey are no slouches. Just watch it some time and see for yourself.

7. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK-1955

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Robert Ryan (left) sics his bulldog Ernest Borgnine (right) on poor one-armed Spencer Tracy (center).

Maybe not THE most, but certainly one of the most influential fight scenes in movie history. A brillian study on that all-American virtue known as bigotry, director John Sturges and writer Millard Kaufman slowly turn the screws of tension as middle-aged, one-armed, slightly paunchy Spencer Tracy gets shut out in his attempts to find out what happened to his war-time comrade, Komoko, in the sleepy desert town of Black Rock. The film is brimming with great moments (including several with lower-billed henchman Lee Marvin) but the highlight is without question what happens when bulldog-squeezed-into-a-pair-of-jeans Ernest Borgnine taunts Tracy into a fight.
How could Tracy possibly come out alive? As Steve Allen said to me when I interviewed him back in the 90s: “The moment when poor, one-armed Spencer Tracy finally lashed out as the good guy, elicited from a good neighborhood totally white audience the loudest ‘Yeah!’ I ever heard in my life in a movie. I mean you hear it at football games and such but I never heard a [movie] audience do that before.”

8.THE KENTUCKIAN 1955

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau's film debut.

Director and star Burt Lancaster (left) lays it on bad guy Walter Matthau (right) in Matthau’s film debut.

Burt Lancaster made his directorial debut with this film, and although rarely appreciated in his canon of work, it has one of my all-time favorite fight scenes. Walter Matthau made his film acting debut as Lancaster’s nemesis, taking him on with a whip as Lancaster battles bare-fisted. It’s a western, but unlike most westerns it takes place in the early 1800s, tells the tale of a traveling backwoods single father and his young son and, despite some overly talky scenes, has some phenomenal action scenes. It builds to a fight between Lancaster and Matthau, whom we’ve seen is an expert with a bullwhip, while all Lancaster has is bare knuckles. Feel sorry for Matthau, who does make you think he has ol’ Burt out maneuvered….for a little while, anyway.
Becuause former acrobat Lancaster directed the film, he gave himself a rousing end scene in which he races through a pond without cutting away in order to stop his enemy from relaoding his flintlock. Must be seen to be believed.

9. WEST SIDE STORY-1961

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Richard Beymer (left) as Tony scrambles to help Russ Tamblyn as RIff (center) against rival gang leader Bernardo (right) played by Geroge Chakiris.

Yeah, it’s a favorite and since there’s very little I can add about this classic that hasn’t been said already a million times, I’ll just go on about what it means to me personally. Oh, other than it’s another example of a movie still chided for being less beleviable than a superhero franchise simply because street gangs don’t go around dancing the mean streets of NYC. Right. But caped crusaders do. Please!
Anyway, when I was a kid and first saw the knife fight ballet, it scared the hell out of me! Seriously.  I bought into the film’s premise completely and since I was just a kid, I picked sides. Russ Tamblyn as Riff was a favorite since seeing him in Tom Thumb and then seeing the gymnasitc dancing he did made him even more a favorite. I still recall being on the edge of my seat during that knife fight and my pounding heart jumping into my throat at the outcome. I really didn’t expect it and watching it today, it still gets to me. Sure, they’re dancing in the fight but it makes it no less belevable to me. I recall George Chakiris once saying that Jerome Robbins taught him the difference in dancing between just movement in step and movement as character and geez, does it show in this sequence. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.
Oh, one more  afterthought:  Tamblyn and Chakiris have remained friends through the years and recently, Tamblyn underwent open heart surgery. Apparently it was touch-and-go but when they wheeled him out of post-op one of the people Tamblyn saw nervously awaiting the outcome, was Chakiris. They locked eyes and Tamblyn smiled, held up his hand and snapped his fingers. Is that cool or what? I guess Riff was right: “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way….”

10. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-1962

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

Henry Silva (left) as a VERY savvy houseboy and Frank Sinatra (right) do battle.

If a paranoid cold war thriller can be considered perfect, than this is the one.  Why they thought it neccessary to remake it 2004, is beyond me. Well, they didn’t ask me so there you go…..
Anyway, from the very first scene this one grabs you. The opening (suggested to director John Frankenheimer by Frank Sinatra) sets the tone for the unrelenting weirdness to come, all the way up to and including the amazing ending. In the midst of the strange doings, Korean War vet Frank Sinatra, frsutrated over the nightmares he’s experiencing, confronts one of the people in his nightmare, Korean houseboy Henry Silva (!?) Both being combat vets, they tangle in hand-to-hand-combat while Sinatra desperatley tries to extract needed information from Silva. It’s a fight scene that is filmed, edited, and performed in a highly stylized format for the early 60s and consequently, still packs a wallop. A true stand-out in films in general but especially for a film already brimming with stand outs.
I remember seeing an interview Barbara Walters did with Frank Sinatra late in his life in which they toured his Palm Springs home. They then settled in by the pool in which Walters noticed the giant Queen of Diamonds shimmering in the cement beneath the crystal clear water. She then asked Sinatra, “Is that a symbol from your Vegas Rat Pack days?” Sinatra smiled at her and said, “Actually, Barbara, it’s from a film I made years ago called The Machurian Candidate….”
I hate a journalist who doesn’t do their homework. Coming up from My Favorite Film Fight Scenes Part 2 of 5 is…wait for it Part 3 of 5.
– Dwayne Epstein

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