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The Front Row View: A Fish Called Wanda

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man. 


My good friend Kevin Logan inspired today’s post—Charles Crichton’s 1988 comic smash A Fish Called Wanda. Part Monty Pythonesque farce (courtesy of co-writer-star John Cleese and star Michael Palin) and part 1950s Ealing comedy (courtesy of Crichton, who directed a few of them ), the movie whips by with funny lines and outrageous characterizations. Jamie Lee Curtis is deft and sexy as the duplicitous jewel thief, Michael Palin is enjoyable and somewhat poignant as the stuttering thief with a soft spot for small animals (Palin took some heat from pressure groups for the politically incorrect stuttering), Cleese slides along through his script like an expert farceur as the too-proper barrister and, best of all, Kevin Kline turns in an Oscar-winning screwball performance for the ages as the dim-witted thief. I can’t help but smile every time he’s on screen. Take a look at this one the next time that you’re in a cranky mood. It’s good medicine.


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The Front Row View: The Fabulous Baker Boys

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man. 


Time to get to one of my favorite movies of all time. Steve Kloves’ 1989 The Fabulous Baker Boys is a stylish, witty and melancholic look at siblings Jack and Frank Baker (played by real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges), two small time pianists still scrounging for a living playing third rate dives after many years. They finally consent to hire a vocalist, Suzie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer), who immediately improves both the number and the quality of their bookings with her warm and skilled interpretations of the standards that they play. The beautiful Pfeiffer is at her best here, both in the musical sequences (crawling over a piano while singing Makin’ Whoopee, eeeooowwwwww!) and in her banter with the boys. Jeff Bridges does an amazing job of revealing Jack’s self-loathing while showing his passion for music that attracts Suzie to him. Beau Bridges is also skillful as the fussy leader of the group, constantly moaning over Jack’s hair or Suzie’s tardiness. Rifts in the group occur when Suzie starts to challenge Jack. The images of cinematographer Michael Ballhaus hold the movie in a nostalgic glow, and the script by Kloves is rife with sharp lines (many of which I’ve used over the years). It doesn’t get much better than this.


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The Front Row View: 1941

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man. 


Today’s post is another Guilty Pleasure—-Steven Spielberg’s epic 1979 comedy 1941. The movie flopped at the box office and slowed down Spielberg’s career momentum after his blockbusters Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Some people see it and gape at the enormous waste of money. I do too, up to a point, but I also find it’s mix of wild sight gags, technical virtuosity and anarchic atmosphere great fun to watch. I’ve loaned my copy of the DVD to a couple of people, only to have them hand it back the next day and look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Sorry, I just can’t help it. I remember seeing it when it came out and wishing that the amazing jitterbug number would never end. It’s also been one of my favorite Spielbergs. If you’ve seen it—-love it or loathe it, let me know what you think! Just be nice.


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The Front Row View: New Year’s Day

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man. 


It’s New Year’s Day, and what better way to start the new year than with a viewing of German director F.W. Murnau’s 1928 silent masterpiece Sunrise? A young farmer is tempted by a visiting woman from the city to murder his wife and run off with her. He almost does it, then has a change of heart and realizes how much he loves his wife. They end up taking a trip into the nearby city. Both are astounded by the marvels that the city has to offer. The simple story isn’t the attraction. What is is the style in which the movie was made. Murnau was a student of German Expressionism, and much of the movie is designed in this fashion. Bizarre camera angles, off-kilter and dramatic lighting, as well as wondrous imagery give the movie a fairy tale quality that makes it one of the most beautiful black and white films ever made. The young farmer’s seduction under a full moon, as well as the young couple’s journey to the city are marvels to behold. Janet Gaynor took the very first Academy Award for Best Actress for this film. The movie itself won a special Academy Award for most “Unique and Artistic Picture.” A highly recommended journey into one of the great dream worlds that the movies have given us.


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The Front Row View #1: Slayed at the Box Office

The Front Row View is a regular column by Great Stories contributor Jim Cannizzaro.  He is a veteran community theater leading man, seasoned blogger, movie enthusiast, and family man. 




    It’s always perplexed me how many good movies have bombed at the box office. Case in point, Bryan Singer’s recent release Jack the Giant Slayer. This hybrid of the fairy tales “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” was one of the most entertaining big-budget fantasies to be released within the past few years. In the wake of the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has sought out just about any Children’s /Young Adult’s property with elements of fantasy that it can get it’s hands on. Many of them have been bloated with special effects and  devoid of anything approaching decent story construction or character development (‘member those?). With some of them, it felt as if I’d had my head inside a video game for 2 hours.

Not so with Jack the Giant Slayer. This was a beautiful and fluid fantasy from one of our most talented filmmakers. Some of the action sequences both rival and surpass those in  the recent The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The first full view of the giants, with one of them standing in the background and then rushing up to snatch up one of the characters, is an amazing use of the space afforded by the wide screen (and yes, the use of space is something else that’s in danger of extinction on today’s movie screens—witness all of the recent action thrillers with action sequences that are so crowded, smashed together and over-edited that it’s difficult to see what, if anything, is going on). Amazing too is the actual climb up the beanstalk, a long and tense sequence that calls to mind the illustrations of great storybooks of the past.



The cast was also well-chosen, with Nicholas Hoult doing a solid job as the hero and the ever-busy Stanley Tucci acting out a memorable villain without hamming it up too much.

Why then, did this fail? Are people getting tired of effects-laden fantasies?  Or was everyone going to see the heavily hyped and mediocre Oz the Great and Powerful instead?



Unfortunately, gone are the days when most movies were in theatres long enough for word of mouth to build. If a movie doesn’t do blockbuster business it’s first weekend, it’s as dead as someone falling from the top of a giant beanstalk.

Can anyone else think of any neglected movies that they’ve admired over the years?


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The Front Row View: Take Your Stinkin’ Paws Off the Original Movie!!

Howdy—the other night on Mad Men they had two of the characters at a movie house watching the original 1968 Planet of the Apes. They showed the famous Statue of Liberty in the Sand ending while the two characters in the movie house gaped in awe (the show is set in 1968, so this was the first time that the world had seen it).

This got me thinking about how perfect the 1968 original was. Watching it on network television for the first time when I was a child, it was one of my first non-Disney movie memories. It had a lot to offer—an interesting plot, great (non-digital!) action, some interesting musings about society, some rousing (some would say over-the-top) acting, and some extremely convincing make-up, especially for it’s time. It still remains an experience that shows viewers what movies can be capable of.

My question: why redo it if it’s perfect the first time?

Hollywood’s unspoken answer: DINERO!!!

Which is why they went ahead and “reimagined” it in 2001.

The remake was mediocre at best, the most positive thing that could be said about it being the improved make-up. But realistic make-up does not a good movie make. The new film was pretty hum-drum. Despite my usual enjoyment of Mark Wahlberg, let’s face it—endearing overactor that he was, Chuck Heston could’ve eaten Marky Mark for breakfast in this one.

I won’t pick on the amazing 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as I don’t consider this a true “remake.”

Some other contenders for the Why Bother to Remake It award:

Poseidon—a good meat and potatoes disaster movie all in all, but the more realistic take wasn’t anywhere near as entertaining as the campiness of the original Poseidon Adventure. I also missed those two great old hams Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine—“HOW MANY MORE LIVES??!” “ALL RIGHT YOU—THAT’S ENOUGH!!” Classic.

Superman Returns—Christopher Reeve did it proud in his first two movies as the Man of Steel—what Brandon Routh did in 2006 was to offer a Christopher Reeve impression without any of his charm or likability. Deeply disappointed in Kevin Spacey’s Luthor (should have been great) and in Bryan Singer’s directing (this was the guy who did The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men after all).

The Amazing Spider-Man—not a bad flick on it’s own, but did we really need a retelling a mere ten years after the first Spiderman? Emma Stone is amazing, but I think she needs to start turning down scripts that require her to still be in high school.

Does anyone have any other contenders?

Hope that everyone’s enjoying the day!