Sunday, December 11, 2016

Shaun Berk's 10 Movie Recommendations- 578th Edition

Welcome to the 578th Edition of my series.  IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was very well received at the Marion Civic Theater and am grateful for the experience of this new group of actors I got to work with and have one more performance today at 2 pm.  As of now I am not doing anything and could be taking a break until at least spring but as always I'll keep everyone posted.  While I do like the holidays, I hate snow and cold weather but will do what I must to get through it.  That is all for now so on with the selections.

The Ref (1994):  I start the week out with this underrated holiday comedy.  Ted Demme directed this film that takes place on Christmas Eve.  Denis Leary stars as cat burglar Gus who takes a couple hostage when his partner abandons him during a heist.  Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis co-star as the couple Lloyd and Caroline that is taken hostage and Gus gets far more than what he bargains for when he finds that they are a very bickering couple and even more than he bargains for when he meets the rest of the dysfunctional family that is coming over for the holidays.  Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Glynis Johns, Raymond J. Berry, Richard Bright, Christine Baranski, Adam LeFevre, J.K. Simmons, B.D. Wong, and many others star in this comedy.  This does have a lot of very funny moments with a hostage taker unexpectedly becomes a counselor in a sense.  This never usually gets mentioned in holiday comedies but believe it should be mentioned more.  This is available on Instant Netflix.

Paper Man (2009):  This is part three of my four-part Jeff Daniels series.  Kieran and Michele Mulroney wrote and directed this independent film.  Daniels stars as struggling author Richard Dunn who is also struggling with a marriage to his wife Claire, played by Lisa Kudrow, and is spending time in a home in Long Island hoping to come up with his next novel.  While there, he meets a teen named Abby, played by Emma Stone, and forms an unlikely friendship when seeing they are both struggling to cope in their own way.  Ryan Reynolds co-stars as Richard's imaginary friend he has not let go of so it would be safe to say he has not been able to fully grow up.  Most people know that Reynolds has played two superheroes in both the Green Lantern and Deadpool but most do not realize before these two he was Captain Excellent albeit being a figment of the imagination.  Kieran Culkin, Hunter Parrish, Chris Parnell, and Arabella Field also co-star in this film.  I guess I am a sucker for movies like these that are driven by characters and this is one.  Watching this, I felt I was there with Daniels and Stone in their struggles.  There were also quite a bit of laughs to go along with this moving story.  This is available on

Babe (1995):  This selection does have a scene that takes place during the holidays.  Chris Noonan directed this animal comedy which is based on a novel by Dick King-Smith.  Farmer Arthur Hoggett, played by James Cromwell wins a pig and is named Babe, voiced by Christine Cavanaugh, by the animal community.  A motherly border collie named Fly, voiced by Miriam Margolyes, takes in Babe and find that the unusual pig can her sheep which Farmer Hoggett begins to notice.  With Babe's rise as a sheepherding pig, some of the animals are a bit dismayed for him not sticking to tradition, espcially Fly's husband Rex, voiced by Hugo Weaving.  Magda Szubanski co-stars as Farmer Hoggett's wife and Danny Mann, Miriam Flynn, Russi Taylor, Evelyn Krape, Roscoe Lee Browne, and many others lend their voices.  I suppose this could be a more modern-day CHARLOTTE'S WEB where its protagonist Wilbur has a resourceful spider that made really cool spider-webs to help save him from becoming a meal and in this one Babe takes to the border collies and forms its own unique trait for a pig in sheepherding that helps him not become dinner.  The scene in the beginning makes me believe that the writers of this movie are vegans and animal rights activists.  It is still a good family film and a very well done one.  This is available on Plex On-Demand.

Night Mail (1936):  This is my documentary short for the week.  Harry Watt and Basil Wright directed this short which shows the mail system in England in this era.  These were put on by the postal service themselves and hired professional filmmakers to put documentaries like this one together with the inspiration of early documentary NANOOK OF THE NORTH.  This shows many elements of the system like the delivery and sorting of the mail.  This was rather revolutionary for the documentary world at this time.

O. Henry's Full House (1952):  This is a holiday selection that I had not heard of until now.  This was a movie of segmented stories and features five short stories from William Sydney Porter whose pen name was O. Henry.  His stories dealth with the early 20th Century and is known for his surprise endings.  Author John Steinbeck makes a rare film appearance is the host in a sense introducing the stories and talking about the author who he obviously had a lot of respect for as a writer.  This was probably a very daring and risky project where each story was assigned a different director, writers, and actors.  Henry Hathaway and Richard L. Breen were assigned THE CLARION CALL.  Howard Hawks and uncreditted writers Ben Hecht, Nunnally Johnson, and Charles Lederer were assigned THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF.  Henry King and Walter Bullock where assigned THE GIFT OF THE MAGI which I auditioned for in Alexandria.  Henry Koster and Lamar Trotti were assigned THE COP AND THE ANTHEM.  Jean Negulesco, Ivan Goff, and Ben Roberts were assigned THE LAST LEAF.  Actors include Fred Allen, Anne Baxter, Jeanne Crain, Farley Granger, Charles Laughton, Oscar Levant, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Peters, Gregory Ratoff, Dale Robertson, David Wayne, Richard Widmark, Lee Aaker, Fred Kelsey, Richard Garrick, and many others that were willing to take supporting roles out of respect for this project.  This was a nice and unexpected gem I came upon.  I was probably most moved by THE LAST LEAF, but the rest were all very enjoyable and while not all of them necessarily take place during the holidays, there is enough for a holiday selection and hope to get this more on the radar.

Black Christmas (1974):  Now I bring some classic holiday horror for those who don't like the sappy Christmas movies.  It is Christmas break at a sorority house and begin to get strange phone calls.  One of the girls disappear which does not draw much concern from the police and it takes a murder for them to investigate.  They are soon pitted against a stalker and I started realizing that horror movies seem to have a rather incompetent police force.  Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, and many others co-star in this film.  This is another rather overlooked holiday film and horror film in general.  It was good to see Olivia Hussey who plays Juliet in my favorite version of ROMEO AND JULIET in 1968 and always good to see John Saxon.  Check out some horror in December.

Hedda Gabler (1962):  This is my tv movie for the week which is based on the play by Henrik Ibsen.  Ingrid Bergman stars as Hedda who is a scheming woman marrying a nice but rather dimwitted acedemic in George, played by Michael Redgrave.  The marriage is obviously not out of love and things become very complicated when George's former colleague and rival Ejlert, played by Michael Redgrave, comes into the picture.  Ralph Richardson and Ursula Jeans also co-star in this BBC film.  While this is an abridged version, it was still very compelling to watch though I guess I have not seen this so it didn't matter for me.  This comes from a boxed set of other Ibsen adaptations put on by BBC through the years.  Ibsen did a lot for the genre of drama and this boxed set I found pays good tribute to this important playwright.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985):  Barry Levinson directed this film and was written by Chris Columbus.  Alan Cox stars as a young John Watson who is recalling his time at an English Boarding school and his meeting with the teenage Sherlock Holmes, played by Nicholas Rowe.  While there, some murders are happening that are made to look like suicide which leads into finding a cult.  Sophie Ward, Anthony Higgins, Susan Fleetwood, Freddie Jones, Nigel Stock, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, and many others co-star in this film.  This is meant to be an imaginative story on how the two iconic characters written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meet since Doyle never really wrote a story on their meeting and how they became the people they became.  I remember watching this in high school and remembered it being pretty enjoyable.  This is a rather overlooked movie of the '80s in my opinion.  It was a pretty clever story and even have some good special effects to go along with it in the hallucination scenes.  I believe Doyle would have liked this back story on his characters.

Middle of the Night (1959):  Delbert Mann directed this film based on the play by Paddy Chayefsky and possibly part one of a two part series for both Fredric March and Kim Novak.  March stars as widowed businessman Jerry who takes an interest in his employee Betty, played by Novak, who is young enough to be his daughter.  This drama takes a look at the complications of a relationship with a big age gap which is still looked down upon today but likely moreso in this era.  Glenda Farrell, Albert Dekker, Martin Balsam, Lee Grant, Lee Philips, and many other co-star in this film.  March and Novak were really good together in trying to get through their own issues with age difference and dealing with the objections from their friends and family.  I find I have focused on quite a few classic writers in O. Henry, Ibsen, Chayefsky and in a sense Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  This is a really good love story that is very complex and really deserves a look.

A Most Violent Year (2014):  This is part two of a two-part Jessica Chastain series.  J.C. Chandor wrote and directed this crime drama.  This takes place in 1981 New York City which is said to be the most violent year in that city.  Oscar Isaac stars as immigrant Abel Morales who tries to operate a successful business but must deal with violence and corruption in their efforts to expand their business.  Chastain co-stars as Abel's wife Anna who remains strong in her effort to keep the family together and safe.  David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel, Catalina Sandino, Moreno, Christopher Abbott, Peter Gerety, Alessandro Nivola, and many others co-star in this film.  This is a good look at an ambitious man and the measures he will take to keep what he has going.  This is available to watch on Amazon Prime.

Well, that is it for this week.  Tell me what you like and dislike and stay tuned for next week which so far includes Charlize Theron, and many others.

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