With no new TV episodes airing over the holidays, my thoughts turned to all those nifty film channels and movies I had not seen since they were initially released. So I embarked on a journey to look at some films through older eyes. Not old, just older, with a different perspective. I found three films and one iconic daytime broadcast, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, The Sundance Channel and the late (as of Dec. 31, 2013) and soon-to-be lamented SoapNet.
When The Deer Hunter was released in 1978, it was one of the first films — maybe the first film — to deal grippingly with the war in Vietnam. Michael, Steven and Nick are young factory workers from Pennsylvania who enlist in the army to fight in the war. Before they go, Steven (John Savage) marries the pregnant Angela (Rutanya Alda) and their wedding party becomes the boys’ farewell party. After many horrors, the three fall into the hands of the Vietcong and are brought to a prison camp where they’re forced to play Russian roulette against each other. Michael (Robert De Niro) helps them escape, but they soon get separated. Relative unknowns when cast, the stars — also including Meryl Streep, John Cazale and the remarkable Christopher Walken as Nick — make The Deer Hunter as gut-wrenching and emotional in 2014 as it was in 1978. None of the boys I knew who came home from Vietnam were ever the same, and neither Savage’s Steven, who lost both legs and an arm, nor Walken’s Nick, who blamed himself for it, ever recovered from the Russian roulette. It was a difficult film to re-watch from both a personal perspective and an artistic one and I realized why I had seen it only once. If you’ve never seen The Deer Hunter, take it from someone of that generation, now is the time.
Having not seen Lawrence of Arabia since 1962, I was amazed at the scope of the film. Growing up during The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur days of location shoots, David Lean’s Oscar-winning epic was breathtaking — but also not quite what I remembered. The story of T.E. Lawrence was more than sword fights, camels, sand and 20-something Peter O’Toole. The real story was about Lawrence’s attempt to unify all Arabs against the English-speaking, Christian world, something my 14-year-old self never realized at the time. Did he succeed? Yes, to a point; that struggle still continues to this day. For the sheer spectacle of the camera work and the performances of O’Toole and Omar Sharif, and the genius of icons including Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy and Jack Hawkins, this is also one film not to be missed.
The Joy Luck Club was a joy the second time around, too, with powerful acting from a who’s who of Asian actresses, including the indestructible Ming-Na Wen (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Eureka, Stargate Universe) as June, the daughter looking to fulfill her mother’s dream of reuniting with the children she was forced to leave behind in China. Tamlyn Tomita (Eureka, the upcoming Resurrection) as June’s bitchy nemesis Waverly, Rosalind Chao (M*A*S*H, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: DS9, Intelligence) as Rose, Tsai Chin (Christina Yang’s mother on Grey’s Anatomy) as Auntie Lindo and the always stunning France Nuyen (South Pacific, Diamond Head, Satan Never Sleeps, Star Trek, St. Elsewhere) as Auntie Ying-Ying were excellent. Tan’s story of Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters is both heart-rending and laugh-filled at the same time. It could be about all mothers and daughters, save for the gut-wrenching backstory of each mother in China, in contrast with their daughter’s privileged upbringing in the ‘burbs. As we experience each of their pasts, we learn what made them the women they are and the mothers they became.
Nov. 16, 1981: Luke and Laura’s wedding. This event became the most watched episode in the history of daytime TV, putting General Hospital on top of the soap opera heap.
Not only was this one of the most anticipated events in GH history, but it introduced the first “stunt-casting” on daytime: Elizabeth Taylor as the evil Helena Cassadine.
In digging for a back story, I came across this very interesting quote from Anthony Geary, who played Luke both then and now, about the future of the Luke and Laura characters as well as himself:
This is not going to be my career.
Needless to say, it’s 2014, and both Geary and Francis are still Luke and Laura. Last year, GH celebrated its 50th anniversary and producer Frank Valentini has resurrected most of the characters present at that wedding — Luke’s sister Bobbie Spencer, Scott Baldwin, Robert Scorpio and Helena Cassadine, now played by Broadway musical diva Constance Towers. And that’s why I’m still watching it, 50 years later.
And the Golden Globe Goes to…
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, starring Andy Samberg and a wonderful cast of misfit cops who always seem to solve their crimes, is a cross between Barney Miller and Car 54, Where Are You? That the TVJ picked this show out of the starting gate, and the fact that it knocked Modern Family out of the game, says a lot. Also bringing home the GG was Samberg himself; he is so adorable and outrageously irreverent as Detective Jake Peralta. The entire cast, including the usually uber-serious Andre Braugher as, well, the uber-serious and gay Captain Holt, is quirky and loveable, making for must-laugh TV. Well deserved, Nine-Nine.
I resisted Behind the Candelabra until I was desperate for something new to watch (see above) and I’m glad I did. The last person I would ever expect to portray Liberace is Michael Douglas, who I really adore as an actor, but his performance was so brilliant, with sequins and boas galore, that I just sat there mesmerized. Matt Damon as Scott Thorson was a perfect match for Douglas and, after a while, I forgot they were two straight guys playing gay men, including one of the most flamboyantly in the history of showbiz. The Golden Globes picked that one right, too!
Best TV Moment of the Week…
The gazillion shows that focused on the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado. Other than the usual cray-cray of Nancy Grace (find it on YouTube), the shows really discussed the growing, selling and economic aspects of the pot biz. Ok, so the Rocky Mountain High jokes wore a bit thin after the first week, but looking at those buckets and buckets and buckets of pot had me salivating and contemplating a move to the Mile High City.
This Week on the Tube…
There is an outstanding special on Showtime that is well worth the viewing. Way better than the actual Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis is Showtime’s Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis, produced by the Coens and T Bone Burnett and filmed at NYC’s Town Hall. The concert was an acoustic evening of folkies old and young, singing music old and new. In addition to Oscar Isaac, who stars in the film, performers ranged from Joan Baez and Patti Smith to Marcus Mumford and Jack White and introduced some new performers, including my fave new duo, The Milk Carton Kids, who took me right back to the early days of Simon and Garfunkel. Don’t miss this one.