Transmissions from TCMFF: 2023 Edition (Part One)

Last year I was an amateur at TCMFF. This year I was ready.

And by that I mean ready to plan even less about what I was going to do. I had studied the schedule, planned as best I could. But the schedule was a cruel joke this year. In some slots I wanted to see everything. Other times I wanted to see nothing. A tragedy for a planner such as I.

I did have plans for Wednesday at least. With barely a moment to even put down my bags, I headed straight for one of the most important things in the world: a milkshake. It was time for my friends to find out that this was not a bit with me.

After Susan and I scarfed down the essentials at dinner, it was time to make a run for a pre-fest movie at New Beverly Cinema. The venue had alluded me last year, but this time the allure of seeing Gable and Harlow on 35mm was too tempting to pass up.

Red Dust was proceeded by the cartoon The CooCoo Nut Grove, which must be seen to be believed. It’s a bizarre nightclub short that involves all sorts of old movie actors done up in absurd caricature fashion. And we may or may not have been shushed by someone for pointing out the stars as they came on screen. Look, Laurel and Hardy were on screen as a monkey and a pig. I couldn’t control myself.

The feature was a great deal of fun, and on the way out I impulsively bought a New Beverly shirt that featured a dog wearing 3D glasses. And when I say impulsive, I mean I looked at it and immediately had my wallet in my hand. This was not an action I had control over. Hold Your Man came next, but I could barely hold my eyes open. But my pre-TCMFF day was a great one with great company.

* *

Before the festivities started on Thursday, I had grand plans to finally check our Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I learned two lessons that morning. The first was that I should have combed my hair before leaving for Target at 8:30am. It’s easy to forget that I’m a minor celebrity there who will run in to multiple people even at the crack of dawn.

And I also should have gone with a tour of the cemetery. It proved a little unwieldy to follow on my own, and I didn’t see as much as I would have liked. But I did at least get to see Rudolph Valentino, which made the whole trip worthwhile. And then I accidentally stumbled upon the monstrosity that is the Mickey Rooney memorial, and the trip almost wasn’t worthwhile again.

The official TCMFF festivities began with the Meet TCM event. But of course this event was seeing all my friends en mass again. To be reunited with everyone after so long was such an amazing feeling. And somehow they all still liked me. I’m sure next year they’ll all come to their senses.

As to what was actually said at the event, I couldn’t really tell you anything of note. But I can tell you that a guy turned to my group and said “some of us are trying to listen.” Yes, I was shushed twice in a 24 hour period. I swear I was good the rest of the weekend.

Since I fear nothing more than Bruce Goldstein’s TCMFF trivia, I ran away from this once again and instead had a lovely group meal at Mel’s Drive In. Our group was so large that poor later arriving Molly sat at a nearby booth. You’ll never guess what I had to drink.

The opening night reception followed and gave an even better chance to see all my friends again. Although I will admit the inside setting was a little too cramped compared to the poolside last year. And as it turned out, it was a little more covid friendly than the poolside atmosphere as well.

After that, it was time for the first big decision: choosing the movie to see. The opening night selection was one of the most brutal of all choices. Anniversary screening of Shadow of a Doubt? One Way Passage? Rio Bravo? Okay, not that one. I opted for One Way Passage, breaking the “no crying at TCMFF movies” rule Robyn and I had started last year. She was smart enough not to attend. But how could I resist seeing one of the loveliest movies on the big screen?

The screening was excellent, and Emily was my viewing partner for the first movie of the fest. One of the fun things about this year was seeing movies with a wide variety of friends. It’s still quite amazing that I have so many friends there.

The second movie lineup on Thursday night didn’t appeal to me much, so I turned in early.

* *

It’s here that we need to talk about the importance of a good TCMFF outfit. Well, it’s important for me at least. I have an image to maintain. Since I was seeing some horror movies throughout the day, this was the day to represent my doppelgänger. Can’t pass up turning a Twitter bit into a real bit.

King Kong was first on the agenda at 9am, marking the first time I’d ever actually seen a movie at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Watching King Kong rip the jaws of some dinosaurs apart on a huge screen was good stuff. From there, it was promptly on to the movie I was most worried of not making it into: Footlight Parade.

We were to lucky to make it, and thank god for that. I’ve learned there is nothing better than a Bruce Goldstein presentation, and he delivered again. The insights before and after were so good, and his wrap up showing what parts of the movie got censored was hilarious. I can neither confirm nor deny if I find rotating women unbelievably scandalous now.

It was somewhere in this block of time (time has little meaning during the film festival) that I got to experience my favorite TCMFF tradition: Priscilla getting really excited to see me. The pressure is now on for her to make a good display of it next year.

Seeing two movies back to back can be a little draining, so I opened to to do the sensible thing and take the next block of time off. And went to Runyon Canyon Park, which made the whole thing a little less sensible. But it sure was nice there.

The evening part of Friday contained a little bit of running around too. Of course I had to see Frankie Avalon introduce Beach Party, and of course I had to bail to see House of Wax in 3D. (Even though that meant missing Ball of Fire in 35mm, grumble grumble.)

My favorite part of the whole festival was hanging around poolside before Frankie Avalon came out. The TCMParty crowd kind of took over a whole portion of the area, our group just growing larger and larger. It was such a fun group.

Honestly, this is one of the few times in life I’ve experienced that. It’s so rare that I can just people totally at ease and social with a whole group of people who all get me. The conversation was all so fun and free and natural, and it just felt like I belonged chatting it up with whichever person joined the group. I was at home with my people, my friends.

And Frankie Avalon’s hair still looked good.

The big group had to break up, at least for a while. I made my way for the much anticipated House of Wax 3D screening. It looked like I might be flying solo for this screening, but of course I know too many people for that. I was lucky enough to have my annual running into Amelia, who questionably introduced me to Matt as being very cool. Me, cool? Could never be the case.

What was cool was the whole introduction and screening. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the totally useless ping pong paddle scene in 3D. These are the kind of film events I love at the festival. This is the movie experience you’d never get anywhere else. And I felt very lucky to spend the time with friends I hadn’t seen yet.

After the customary hanging around in the theater lobby, it was time to turn in for the night. Batwoman was due to start at midnight, but I couldn’t handle that. Saturday would be the longest day of the festival.

But that’s a story for another time.

Real Documentaries, Fake Documentaries, and Exploding Cows: My Top 10 First Time Film Watches of 2022

If you’re reading this, you probably have a good grasp of my movie tastes by now. Old movies: movies so old that they’re either in the public domain or are rapidly approaching it. But I do like some other stuff too, and that always creeps its way onto my favorite first time watches list. This year’s list just make contain a few surprises. The list spans 97 years and includes a wide range of genres. Two of them are even from the last two years! See, I’m more than just the guy who talks about Harry Langdon a lot.

But Harry Langdon is also on the list, so I am that too.

Anyway, here are my top ten first time watches of 2022 in chronological order:

The Caretaker’s Daughter (1925)

This Charley Chase two reeler immediately shot up the list of my favorite silent comedies. The bulk of the short is the Marx Brothers mirror gag on steroids. Charley Chase and Katherine Grant are both trying to avoid being spotted by three different people converging on the house. And so they both dress up as the servant, who is trying to serve dinner for all the guests. So what we get are three people in identical costumes running around and trying to avoid detection. It’s brilliant comedy.

Soldier Man (1926)

This was the last major silent Harry Langdon film that I hadn’t seen. I didn’t know I was saving (maybe) the best for last. This is the quintessential Harry Langdon story. It perfectly displays what makes him funny. The plot setup is that Harry is a soldier unaware that the war has ended. One of the most surreal gags I’ve ever seen takes place in this three reeler: Harry mistakenly thinks that a cow has eaten dynamite and then mistakenly thinks the cow got blown up. He then talks to the cow that he thought got blown to smithereens.

Every scene is that much of a bizarre trip. Even the ending, which would feel like a cop out usually, is done in hilarious fashion. One of the best silent comedies I’ve ever seen.

History is Made at Night (1937)

There is so much going on in this movie. You would never expect all the tone and genre shifts this brings. First and foremost, this is one of a whirlwind romance you’ll ever see. When Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer get lost in each other’s eyes, it feels so raw and real. It’s people in love, and you feel the love just radiating from them.

And then there’s all the layers that make this movie extra interesting. It takes what could be an ordinary romance and turns it on its ear. Colin Clive is a slimy an unrepentant villain that adds a lot. The murder investigation adds a lot to the drama. There is a moment near the end that had me saying “oh no” out loud to myself. It’s a beautiful romance filled with high drama, twists, action and suspense.

The Cranes are Flying (1957)

This is one of the great stories about the effects of war. It shares a lot in common with some of the great U.S. films about World War I. In fact, I would call this movie a more depressing version of The Big Parade. Beautiful cinematography and a lovely romance collide with the heartbreaking horrors of war and loss.

The top review on Letterboxd already sums up The Cranes are Flying more than I ever could: “I hate that it makes my heart hurt so much.” Indeed it does. And yet it’s still lovely.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965)

This documentary that shows Buster Keaton making one final comedy short works on a couple different levels. It is an amazing document of how Keaton worked. And it just makes me happy that to see him making a film like this one more time.

It’s a fascinating look at Keaton as a person and a creator. To see him craft gags is a sight to behold–and it goes to show just how tenacious and out of his mind he is when making a film. Here he is at 68/69 years old, chasing a group of Italian extras down a tunnel just so they understand how the shot works. And of course watching him pout over not being able to do a dangerous stunt is hilarious. A great man and artist deserved such a document.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

I knew John Carpenter was good. But I didn’t know he was good in this way. Here we get his version of an action movie, made on basically no budget and mostly in one police station. It is gripping the entire way. The movie excellently builds the dread and suspense that the big fight scene is going to happen. And when it does, it delivers in a whirlwind of tension and action that never lets up.

And if that wasn’t enough, this features one of the most shocking scenes I’ve seen in a long, long time. I never saw this moment coming and it rocks you pretty good. And the movie just continues! John Carpenter is at the height of his powers already with this film.

The Changeling (1980)

One of the most tense viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time. This is the perfect haunted house/ghost story, full of maturity and heart. George C. Scott slowly unravels what happened in the old house he now lives in, and the journey feels as realistic as a ghost story possibly can. There’s a slow burn tension to every little incident. I was on edge the whole time, knowing that the next thing could happen the whole time.

Despite that slow pace, the tension and sense of dread never makes it feel slow. It just feels like a real lived in world. And when the big moments of terror do hit, there is a memorable payoff each time. These scenes are scary

I could go on like this, but it boils down to this: The Changeling is the perfect ghost story with the perfect lead actor.

Ghostwatch (1992)

This fake TV program investigating ghosts was perceived as real by viewing audiences at the time. I’m not surprised at all that people felt this was real. I knew it was fake and it still felt real. The entire thing feels so much like a real program and it takes so long for things to go haywire that you bite on everything. 

There are so many things that sell it as real, with the audience call ins being one of the key parts. Through that, we have a real magic moment where someone calls in and says they saw a figure in some of the earlier footage. We’re then invited to watch it again, and that’s when things get really creepy.

Every phone call adds to the experience, and it makes you look around every corner closely. There were a couple other instances where I wondered if I saw something and didn’t know for sure. That’s the atmosphere the whole experience creates.

Drive My Car (2021)

Everything about Drive My Car sounds unapproachable at first. It’s a three hour movie of silence and deep discussions about emotions. And yet, I found it both completely devastating and incredibly easy to watch.

I think part of what makes this so easy to digest is how direct it is. There’s no allegory here. The movie just puts a direct discussion about if we can ever know what’s in a person’s heart right in our face. There’s very few camera cuts, leaving nothing else to focus on. Here’s a character pouring his heart out over basic fundamental things we all struggle with. And we’re going to look right at their face and eyes the whole time they talk. There’s no way to hide from the questions this movie asks.

Each of the three main characters gets time to monologue about something deep: finding purpose in life, understanding yourself and others, coping with death and regrets. In each of those scenes, I was gripped to the screen like nothing else has done in years. It speaks to the power of the writing, direction and performances that I was glued to the screen and hanging on every word.

It’s been a long time since a movie made me think this much or feel this much.

Pearl (2022)

This is going to sound like low praise, but Pearl has to be the best horror prequel ever made. Prequels hardly ever matter or have any value. Pearl not only compliments the first movie but made me want to immediately see X again. 

Mia Goth delivers an otherworldly performance. Pearl becomes such a complex and interesting character. For once, showing us more of a character in horror makes them more fascinating. How many times has that ever happened? I’m looking at you, Halloween 5. Two scenes from Goth stand out in particular. You’ll know which ones they are. You’ll never forget them.

Ti West doesn’t delve too much in the slasher realm this time, but it’s not lacking for creepy and shocking moments. There are some turns here that are wild, gross and alarming. You know it’s a good time at the theater when someone says “oh no!”

And just like X, it’s bursting with a rich color palette. Ti West and Mia Goth have casually dropped a new great horror franchise with two classic movies in the same year. Both movies are sharp, shocking fun and give us some lush Technicolor horror about the movie industry. Bring on the third one.

Does TCM Show Too Many Newer Movies?

I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but TCM is airing way too many newer movies lately. I heard they even aired Sleepless in Seattle. Robert Osborne never would have done anything like that.

Wait, I’ve just been informed that TCM actually aired this movie in 2015. And it was chosen by Robert Osborne himself, as part of the Bob’s Picks evening. What the hell?!

If you’ve had the pleasure or misfortune to see the TCM community online, you know that they have . . . particular tastes about their favorite network’s programming. There’s a nonzero chance someone got sent to an early grave stressing over the channel airing concert films one summer. And their chief complaint is one you’ll see all the time: TCM has lost their way. They show way too many newer movies now and not enough old ones.

Someone told me recently that TCM should only air movies when they turn 50 years old. This was a great example to show how silly it is to put any timeframe on what movies count as “old” or “classic.” Let’s just say that this rule got followed. That means that when TCM premiered in 1994, any movie made after 1944 couldn’t be shown. Doesn’t matter that The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Oscars and was one of the the first films selected by the Library Congress for preservation. It wasn’t old enough then! North by Northwest couldn’t have been shown until 2009. Choose any example you want. Drawing any kind of a red line makes it absurd.

The channel has never promised only old movies of a certain age. In fact, here are the first words Robert Osborne said on the air in 1994:

“I’m going to be your host right here as we present some of the best, the finest films ever made, 24 hours a day. We’re going to be drawing not only from the great film libraries of MGM and Warner Brothers, but also from other outstanding film catalogs. So come join us and see not only great films and stars from the past, but also films from recent years featuring some of our newest and most watchable stars.”

Yes, TCM has always said they’d do this and they have. Someone has complied all the decades shown on TCM over the years. Even that opening year, TCM showed 20 films from the 1980s.

So we’ve established this all pretty silly. But does TCM show too many newer movies now, compared to older years? Let’s look. I used the lists available and found the percentages of pre-1970 movies shown in those years. Here’s a selection of years, with percentage of pre-1970 movies:

1994: 96%

2000: 94%

2005: 93%

2010: 90%

2015: 87%

2022: 83%

The first and clearest takeaway is that yes, the vast majority of movies on TCM are still quite quite old. Nearly half of the movies on TCM this year are from before even 1950. But you do notice that the percentage of movies from before 1970 has continued to drop over the years. Why is that? I have a shocking conclusion that some people may not be ready to hear:

Movies from the 1970s are old now. I know that seems wrong, but these movies are either already at a half century old or are rapidly approaching it. It should be no surprise that the passage of time has brought more of these movies onto our fine old movie channel. Because they’re old movies and in 2022 they made up just under 10% of the TCM output.

Let’s put this into perspective. The Sting turns 50 years old in 2023. It won seven Oscars at the Academy Awards. 50 years before that . . . the Academy Awards didn’t even exist and movies were still silent.

Unless you have a portrait aging in your attic, you’re going to continue to grow older. And so are these movies. A TCM in 2032 will probably air a few more movies from the 1980s that they do now, because those movies will be pretty old. But they’ll still be the same channel they are now and were in 1994, because it’s always been about classic movies. It’s never been about a rigid definition of old movies.

Every Halloween Movie Ranked

What’s your favorite scary movie?

Mine might just be 1978’s Halloween. I’ve watched it every Halloween night for as long as I can remember. It’s the perfect time to watch it, just as the sun goes down. The film remains just as enjoyable and creepy every time I’ve watched it. And I’ve been a fan of the franchise as a whole too. And that is no easy task. It’s not the easiest film relationship.

Perhaps you’ve heard some of the perils of the Halloween franchise. Sure, all of them have their dumb and regrettable moments. Jason Voorhees got sent to space, after all. And also randomly to Manhattan on a boat, but that’s a story for a different time. I never cared that much about the silliness of the other franchises as much. Halloween evokes more of an emotional reaction from me. I just care more about the franchise, probably because the first is so good and because the films have several great protagonists. Almost all of them have a central long running character that matters to us. Many other franchises are more villain based. The Halloween series has more of a beating heart–characters we like.

And that’s what has made the series so frustrating. Teases of doing something new have occurred only to be dropped. Complicated storylines have wrecked the whole continuity of the movies. Multiple reboots have happened, leading to a ridiculous number of timelines. Busta Rhymes once beat up Michael Myers with kung fu. All sorts of bad things have happened.

And yet, I still like revisiting many of these films. With Halloween Ends now out, I’ve ranked every movie in the franchise. If you don’t agree with this list, that’s okay. After all, there’s probably an alternate timeline where we agree. If this franchise has taught us anything, it’s that there’s an infinite number of timelines.

13. Halloween Resurrection (2002)

Of course this was going to be on the bottom of the list. It may be the worst major horror movie sequel I’ve ever seen.

Just how bad is it? Well, it opens the most intelligence insulting, pathetic retconning of an ending possible. It strips away the satisfying conclusion of Halloween H20, and at the same time does a huge disservice to Jamie Lee Curtis and the character of Laurie. The send off her character gets is about as horrible as you can do to an iconic character in a movie.

And that sequence is the best part of the movie.

The rest of the movie just has no reason to exist. It’s an internet reality show where people walk around and are killed. That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Cardboard has more depth than these characters. Busta Rhymes kung fu fighting Michael Myers is known as the nadir of the franchise, and they’re not wrong. But let’s not forget about the character whose one character trait is that he’s a cook throwing spices at Michael. Get it? Because he’s a cook. The film reaches its climax, in as much as it can be called that, when the final girl flatly says “this is for all of them” and then tries to hit Michael with the flat part of a chainsaw.

I’ve already said too much about this movie. Don’t watch. Don’t even think of watching it. No, stop. I know you just thought about it. Stop it.

12. Halloween II (2009)

Baby’s first use of symbolism.

The only thing more violent than Michael’s kills is the way Rob Zombie bludgeons the viewer with metaphor. It sure is a good thing that they opened with a quote about the white horse and then had Michael’s mom tell us about the white horse right after that. Otherwise, I might not have gotten what the white horse meant.

There’s a lot of big swings here, most of which are good in theory but half baked in execution. Good idea to focus on Laurie’s PTSD . . . until it becomes part of a psychic connection with Michael. We already saw this in another entry in the series, and it was bad then too. Can’t we just have Laurie struggle with nightmares without having them to involve Sheri Moon Zombie staring at things?

Loomis’ arc feels out of left field, but it leads to interesting moments and I thought it was setting up an interesting conclusion in the climax. But then he’s just disposed of.

And then there’s the ending. Could have been a cool take on the Halloween 4. But no, we need that damn white horse again. Get it, because the horse symbolizes the mother?! Get it?! And you can tell it symbolizes the mother because she’s also with the horse, which kind of eliminates the need for the horse to symbolize her!!

11. Halloween (2007)

For a remake to serve a purpose, it needs to do something different than the original. Otherwise it’s just Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, and no one wants to be that.

So yes, Rob Zombie does bring something new to the table with the extended backstory of young Michael. Now of course we all know that creating more backstory has only watered down Michael in other movies, but that’s neither here nor there. Some of it is effective here. Child Michael’s killing spree is simple and effective. Those moments just happen to take place in between some dirt poor dialogue. The lines are so bad, with the stepfather being one of the worst characters you’ll ever see in a horror movie.

And that’s pretty much the way the whole movie goes. You get creepy scenes in between a guy talking about the dump he’s going to take. Rob Zombie knows how to direct. He has a style and can create good scares. But he can’t write dialogue. Michael’s parents talk horribly, the teen girls no longer sound like humans. Only Malcom McDowell escapes unscathed, and that’s due in part to many of his lines being from the original.

Not totally without merit, but the individual scenes don’t outweigh the bad writing.

10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 4 did the near impossible. After the previous Michael Myers film gave a perfect ending, the series came back with a good fresh start. It had great characters, heart, and a fantastic ending that set the next film up for something interesting.

And then Halloween 5 happened.

It starts things off by retconning the promising ending and then killing off one of the best characters from the previous film. Things are all downhill from there. Everything that follows feels pretty pointless and lifeless. The only likable characters we are left with are the returning Loomis and Jamie. They do their best with the material, but the material is putrid. Having abandoned Jamie as a potential future killer in the previous film, this time they establish that she has a psychic connection to her killer uncle, leading her to know when he’s going to kill next.

Well, sort of. Her details are vague, which means Donald Pleasence’s role as Loomis has been reduced to screaming at a small child for more information. The nadir of this plot involves Jamie sensing danger at a convenience store that features a large cartoon woman with giant cookies where her, well, chest is. Jamie eventually croaks out “cookie woman!” so Loomis can repeat the phrase back. Riveting stuff.

The film is full of things that are just a mess. Take the Myers house. It’s a big deal that they’re going to lure Michael back to his childhood home, using Jamie as bait in the same room where his sister was killed . . . Except it’s not even close to being the same house. Not at all. It’s transformed into a Victorian mansion complete with a laundry chute. And there’s the whole man in black storyline, not even understood by the people that concocted it. That one move is what probably led to all the ignoring of sequels later on. This movie single handedly ruined the trajectory of the whole franchise.

9. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Look, a lot of this isn’t their fault.

Halloween 5 screwed the whole thing up. They gave Michael Myers a tattoo and created a mysterious man in black with no idea what it meant. The poor fools that came next had to try to make sense of the whole thing. They failed. But at least they tried.

There are some good things about this movie. The atmosphere and look are fantastic, one of the best in the whole series in that regard. And Myers is genuinely creepy throughout. The film keeps him in the shadows at the right time and when he’s out, it’s effective and scary in the atmospheric lightning.

And then the druids show up.

The cult of thorn stuff is so bad, almost ruining all the great straightforward slasher stuff that came before it. The ending is almost incomprehensible. There are some moments in the climax where I have legitimately no idea what is happening on the screen. If my life depended on explaining what happened, I’d be making my will right now. I’d say that was the fault of reshoots but . . .

But the producer’s cut, which is well spoken of, is just as dumb. Maybe dumber! The two things it’s got going for it are more Donald Pleasence and a better final shot. But everything leading up to that is still a bunch of gobbledygook.

8. Halloween Kills (2021)

Hamfisted and filled with questionable dialogue, I think Halloween Kills still has its charms as a vicious slasher and continuation of the story from the 2018 film. It gets off to a great start with a 1978 flashback that feels real and adds some backstory to the deputy who plays a key role in the David Gordon Green trilogy.

Much of the film that follows is gnarly and nasty, and features some moments that make you squirm. It’s one of the scariest version of Michael Myers we’ve seen. It’s just unfortunate that many of the supporting characters in this film have some pretty poor dialogue and and characterization. Jamie Lee Curtis does her best at further character development, but is unfortunately sidelined in a hospital for yet another Halloween movie. It’s fun to see so many side characters return, even if some of them don’t get much to do.

The hackneyed “evil dies tonight” stuff has aged poorly in the light of Halloween Ends, as that that entry covers a town reckoning with evil and their demons in a much more mature and smart way. Still, I don’t mind this movie that much. It’s an effective basic slasher with flaws.

7. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Worth watching for the great Jamie Lee Curtis performance. As for the rest of the movie, it’s . . .okay. The opening scene is expertly done and there’s some good slow burn scares that remind you of the original.

But holy crap does this movie overuse the fake jump scare. There’s so many fakeouts that when the real thing happened it didn’t even make me jump. The mask is so bad. So bad. I should say masks, because many different ones appear. They all give the supposed scary guy a doofus look. We see his eyes clear as day the whole time, and he always looks like he’s surprised by something. The one scene featuring a CGI mask is dreadful. He’s never scary, not even once.

Still, Jamie Lee and little things like Janet Leigh having a part make it watchable. You could do worse in this series. And they did.

6. Halloween (2018)

This is still an enjoyable entry into the series that I’ve watched many times, but it has fallen a little bit after seeing Halloween Ends. As much as I enjoyed this Jamie Lee Curtis performance at the time, it isn’t a strong or feels as real compared to what we get in Ends. I can buy the way she’s changed and experiencing trauma more in that than the booby-trapped filled survivalist Laurie in this movie. It just feels a little strange compared to the more grounded performance we see later on.

That being said, this is still an effective tribute to the films that came before. There are plenty of nice nods and easter eggs. The scares are pretty inventive, with the motion sensor camera scene being a highlight for the whole series. It certainly captures the feel of him being somewhere in the house and being a constant threat. Laurie’s whole family is a good addition to the series, adding some new protagonists with heart.

5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4 is a sequel that really holds up on repeat viewings, full of heart and great characters. It does a lot of things well. For one, Haddonfield feels like a very real town in this. The entire fall atmosphere is both welcoming and a little unsettling at the same time. It’s real and lived in.

The characters are so good as well. It’s a mostly new cast, and Rachel and Jamie immediately become two of the best characters in the series. Similar to the first film, we spend enough time with them to learn about their stories and care for them. It works. I’m even invested in the story of Rachel’s boyfriend cheating, a nice extra subplot to add some more to the story. Even Loomis gets a little extra here, through one funny scene and him caring for Jamie.

There’s just a few things here that hurt the film for me, and they’re mostly about Michael Myers. One is the absurdly bad goof where he appears wearing a blonde mask. This random error would be bad enough at any moment, but it occurs at a crucial moment. The moment would be a good scare, except all you’re left thinking is what in god’s name is going on with the mask. It takes me out of the movie for a bit.

Myers in general is also a problem. It’s not even about the mask, which is fine enough. There’s just something about the way he moves that’s . . . off. Overly stiff and robotic might be the best way to describe it. Just something that doesn’t quite seem right. The angry mob going after him is also mostly a failure, just like it is in Halloween Kills.

4. Halloween Ends (2022)

It’s fitting that Halloween Ends uses the typeface from Halloween III, because it’s another movie that people would like more if it didn’t have the Halloween name attached to it.

I would argue that this sequel actually does things that people have wanted the series to do before. It makes a big shift in story focus. And it actually does something Rob Zombie’s remake wanted to do in the prequel portion: explore how evil can get created. Here we see that explored without having to destroy the Michael Myers mythos.

Of course people aren’t going to be happy with a wildly different direction or a severe lack of Michael Myers in the film. But what do you want from that at this point? Prior to Ends, there have been eleven other films in which Michael Myers appears. It’s all been done. And then done again. The series has teased going in a different direction and then backed down. This time they went for it and went all in.

And I’m glad they did. If I want to see a traditional Halloween movie, I have more than enough choices already. What’s the point in doing that again? If you wanted the same old thing again, good for you I guess. But if I’m going to get a new movie at this point, it should be NEW.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak and Rohan Campbell are all excellent. Matichak in particular has grown across the three movies into one of the series’ great protagonists.

There’s a lot of interesting themes and ideas here that are explored well in a quiet, contemplative way. At times it feels more like a drama or thriller than a horror movie, and I’m okay with that too. The horror comes in time. I’m glad the final entry left a mark that’s different and unique. It’s unlike any other Halloween film and I think it’ll age well.

3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I can sort of see why Halloween III took time to get the love it deserves, and not just because there’s no Michael Myers in it. It’s just a weird movie, and one that gets pretty dark. And I love it for that.

The goofiness of things like Tom Atkins investigating Halloween masks and robotic henchmen almost lull you into expecting it’s all going to be kind of silly. That’s what makes the two gruesome kills in this movie so shocking. Well, that and the absurd things that happened with they’re killed. But this movie does not mess around or pull any punches. Or bugs.

The ending also elevates the whole thing to a different level. It’s one of the best endings in horror history and is still shocking when you think about where it goes. In a perfect world, this would have been the start of annual strange films in an anthology series. At least we have this, one of the more unique horror films ever made. It tackles consumerism with a mess of a strange effects and one tune that won’t ever leave your head.

2. Halloween II (1981)

It’s almost hard to separate the first Halloween from the second one because I’ve watched the two of them together so many times. For me, the perfect experience is to feel these two as one long movie. They flow together extremely well. Of course the second movie can’t match the first one, and it does feel a little a little different in tone since the violence level is much more like the 80s slashers. But it ultimately does feel like the same world, and that’s the strength here.

We’re still a part of a Haddonfield that feels real, and the real time aspect of the town dealing with the drama is excellent. We quickly travel through a town falling apart before getting into the isolated hospital setting, which is a great location for horror. The Michael Myers in this film feels just as intimidating and frightening, with him not being as ridiculously Terminator like as he would be in subsequent.

When viewing the first and second movies as a package, the climax and ending are incredibly satisfying. Sure, it didn’t end there but it could have. But it still feels like a nice complete story when the second movie is done.

1. Halloween (1978)

Everyone knows the original Halloween is great, and all the reasons have been talked about: the great performances, the simple ways the Shape is seen from the distance, the classic score. But one person that doesn’t get talked about enough is co-writer Debra Hill. She’s the reason we care so much about these characters. Hill wrote the dialogue between Laurie and her friends, which is crucial to the film’s development. We care more about this group of kids than any other slasher that followed, and that’s because they are well developed and real. Debra Hill made them that way, and in a short amount of time too. In just a short couple of scenes, Debra Hill wrote characters that make the whole movie work. As good as Donald Pleasence is, it wouldn’t mean nearly as much if Lauire, Annie and Lynda weren’t there.

All the rest of the praise about this movie has been said a million times before. It succeeds where all the other sequels fail because of the simplicity of the story and the way its told. And it also succeeds because John Carpenter is one of the greatest directors to ever live. Every moment of the film looks good. It all feels real and right and is accentuated by a perfect soundtrack for the mood. Is everything about this perfect? Probably.

Now Lonnie, get your ass away from here. The list is over.

Transmissions from TCMFF: Day Four and Final Thoughts

How could it be the last day of TCMFF already? At the same time, it felt both like I’d been there forever but had just gotten started. The routine of the festival had gotten quite natural and comfortable. I could get used to a life of one real meal at strange times of day and lots of movies with friends. But alas, that’s not how the real world works.

When the day started, I wasn’t yet sad that things would be ending. And that’s because day was going to a good day. The movie I’d most been looking forward to was closing out the festival: 7th Heaven with an orchestra. A silent film with an orchestra! While I’d seen silent movies with live music before, it had never been something to this level. My most anticipated event waited at the end of the final day.

In fact, it would be my only actual movie of the final day. There were a lot of things to consider with the TCMFF schedule, and I wanted to have a wide variety of experiences: poolside, favorite movies, first time watches, the conversations with actors. The conversation with Bruce Dern hammered home just how important these appearances from the stars are. It’s such a rare and awe inspiring feeling to be in the same room as them and hear their stories. And with that in mind, I couldn’t pass up the conversations taking place on Sunday. These were events that would never come by again.

The first of those events was a conversation with Margaret O’Brien. As luck would have it, several friends were already in the lobby of the Roosevelt. A great time was had even before our featured guest came out.

Margaret O’Brien was every bit as lovely as you would expect, with so many nice words to say about people and great stories. To hear her talk about the stars she got to work with a very young age was nothing short of remarkable. There was talk of Lionel Barrymore making her paper dolls. A young Margaret attended a birthday party at Pickfair, the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. She decided to try out the bidet, and flooded the famous Hollywood estate.

Even the only bad story she had was a cute one. When talking about Wallace Beery, she said that the reason he was such a good actor is that acted like he liked her on screen. For such a small, quiet person, Marget O’Brien commanded the room and had everyone’s attention.

From there, I just walked one room over for my next interview: Piper Laurie (Floyd Norman was seated right by us, not that I’m bragging). This conversation was yet another different one. Piper Laurie had a deep introspective look to her career. There were some parts she didn’t like as much, and she was open to saying so. I didn’t know that early on in her career she asked to let out of her contract, which was such a fascinating story both for the personal reasons and the mechanics that such a move caused. She was so humble as well and honest, admitting that she didn’t attend the Oscars the first time she was nominated because she was too embarrassed. She was even embarrassed hearing her name on TV.

Up next was another unique experience, the Alicia Malone book signing. This was the first and only of these events I ended up attending, as some of the others conflicted with the schedule. This signing was a huge event for a certain someone who is a big fan of Alicia and had the honor of being Twitter friends with her (not all of us can be so lucky). Even on my end, with less stakes involved, it was a a bit of an experience to be nervous about. I’ve never really gone to signings or talked to famous people I admire before. What do you say? Is it possible to just freeze and horribly embarrass yourself?

Of course none of that happened. Alicia is such a welcoming and kind person, and in the time I saw her we just talked. I had my chance to tell her how much I love TCM Imports and it somehow ended with me gushing about how great the Margaret O’Brien interview was. This resulted in a picture where it even looks like Alicia is interested in what I was saying, so that’s a victory.

I got my one square meal of the day, and then it was time to line up for another only at the festival type of event. A murderer’s row of comedians (including Laraine Newman and Jonah Ray, the two names that made me squeal the most) were doing a table read of I Married a Monster from Outer Space. This concept first debuted in the virtual festival, and the live read of Plan 9 from Outer Space was so good that I had to get to this one. This would be something special.

Unfortunately, it started very late. I knew I had no choice but to leave pretty early to get into 7th Heaven. Who knew how many freaks like me needed to see a silent movie with an orchestra, but I wasn’t taking any chances. What I did see of the table read was fantastic, though. Just like in the previous year’s version, Dana Gould’s narration brought so much comedy to the affair. There’s something about drily pointing the worst moments of a bad script that just works. Everyone was on the top of their game. And being an insane person, I’d previously seen the movie they were reading. That prior experience just made it extra fun. See, watching copious amounts of dreadful movies has the occasional benefit.

An early exit guaranteed me a spot for the main event: 7th Heaven! With an orchestra! And sound effects, which I didn’t even know would happen.

I’ll get the negatives of the screening out of the way first: I have no idea why people laughed at very serious moments in the film. And I’m not saying I would like to you banned from future events for doing so. But I wouldn’t protest it.

Anyway! This was such a perfect final event for me at the festival. It was also a silent film I hadn’t seen before. I came into it totally blind, just knowing that it was a good one. For once, I got to experience a silent film for the first time in the perfect setting. The orchestra was as good as expected, and things like cannon sound effects added a lot to the experience. And of course the film was magical, just a world of emotions put onto the screen. This movie epitomized the reunion theme of this year’s festival, and it moved me plenty. Such a beautiful film to end the festival on.

Now things were really winding down. All that was left was the closing night party. It’s at this point that anyone who knows me will be shocked to know that I went to a party. I’m not even sure of the last time I went to a party. And the last time I enjoyed myself at a party and didn’t just feel horribly awkward may have been two presidents ago.

But here I was, at a party. And I actually enjoyed myself.

This was another moment where it set in just how at home I was at this festival. I was comfortable at this party because I was among my own people, and among my friends. Although I had never met any of them in person until now, they were all honest to goodness friends and we already knew each other well. So there I was, just mingling with people who already got me and who I’d already gotten to spend time with over the course of the weekend. It felt natural and right, and so much fun.

And in another shock, I actually approached and talked to some of the TCM luminaries at the event. This boldness immediately paid off with a moment I will think about (and brag about) forever. Dave Karger saw me and said I was “the guy with the funny tweets.” He even knew I met Alica Malone earlier in the day. He could be reading this right now (Hi Dave). James Brown once said he was high on life. I’m high on a TCM host saying I’m funny.

As the night wore on, I also got to meet Eddie Muller and saw Floyd Norman for about the 75th time that weekend. Mario Cantone was also there, and as if I was suddenly a different person, I found myself telling him how much his holiday appearances on Gilbert Gottfried’s podcasts had meant to me. It was a surprisingly emotional moment and it seemed like he appreciated it. A quick recovery was made by bringing up how funny post-stroke Bette Davis was the night before at Polyester. I didn’t get a picture with Mario, but I did have a moment that meant a lot to me. That’s even better.

The night continued to go on, much later than I would ever be an event like this. I continued to talk to friends and got to meet a couple people who had still eluded me prior to this event. Slowly, the party thinned and we eventually wandered back to our rooms, tired but happy.

~ ~

There’s so much more that could be said about TCMFF, which is amazing considering I’ve already written an absurd amount of words about the event. But all that I really need to say is something to everyone I met that weekend:

Thank you.

My mom asked me if I thought these would be long lasting friendships, and truth is that they already were long before I met anyone. And now they’re even stronger. I can’t thank you all enough for being so kind and welcoming to me. It means so much to have met people who were excited to see me. Because of all of you, I had the most active weekend of my life and loved every minute of it. I did more than I ever expected. And for that, I thank you. I didn’t get to say goodbye to most of you, but that’s okay. There will be another one. We’ve been through some things together, with trunks of memories still to come.

-from Shane, with love

Transmissions from TCMFF: Day Three

Saturday looked to be my most packed day on the schedule, and the latest night too. Let’s just say that a midnight movie screening was an ambitious idea for someone who is rarely out after dark. With that in mind, I was happy to take the early morning screening for this day off. There were plenty of other things going on that day, after all.

So like any normal not at all insane person, I spent that free time in the morning going for a walk. Look, I was not about to break my near 700 day move streak on my Apple Watch while on vacation (I’ve since passed 700 days, thank you very much). While out, I got word that people were already lining up for Three on a Match, so I quickly headed back to get in line.

While in line for my first precode of the day, I made my first narrow escape of the TCM interview cameras. The one thing I don’t need is to have TCM on and be surprised by own interview appearing on TV. The line was long, but were numbers 94 and 95, surely good enough for even the tiny theater 4. How many spotlight pass holders could there possibly be? Right as we were at the front of the line, it stopped. Only ten more people would get in, the employee said. Huzzah! We were only four back, so there would be no problem. Then the ten more people turned into zero more people. My first TCMFF shutout happened. In lieu of flowers, please send me sympathy blu-rays.

The bad part about this was that all of the other movies except one had started already. All that was left to do was rush over to see the intro to Annie, so with festival dad Jeff along for the ride, that is what we did.

The intro turned out to be wonderful, the interview with Alicia Malone and Aileen Quinn being very fun. It also gave me a chance to actually be in the TCL Chinese Theater, which was quite the experience. But we still didn’t stay for the movie.

In the downtime, it was time for a pilgrimage to the bookstore I’d heard so much about, Larry Edmunds. To the shock of everyone who knows me, I didn’t buy a single book during the trip. But it was still a great treat, and I enjoyed browsing the shelves. I consider it lucky that none of their lobby cards interested me, as I would have been prepared to walk away with far too many.

The earlier shutout meant we were very early for Baby Face at the Hollywood Legion, the theater I would stay at most of the day. Bruce Goldstein gave an excellent presentation prior to the film, a very nice slide show and audio/video clip combination that gave a lot of context. The film itself was, of course, spectacular and was shown in its uncut form. Afterwards, a short reel played to show the differences between the uncut and the cut version, which made the experience all the more fascinating. And that is when I discovered, to my great disappointment, that the cut version added a shot at Pittsburgh to the ending of the film. This presentation was one of the best of the festival.

The line for the next film, Counsellor at Law, was already long by the time I got out of the previous movie. And so I got right back in line. I couldn’t miss the chance for a John Barrymore film I’d never seen before, along with Leonard Maltin getting the Robert Osborne Award.

Warren Beatty gave a nice introduction to Leonard Maltin. Leonard Maltin gave a speech that I’m sure resonated with everyone in the room. It certainly hit me where I live. He talked about how old movie stars like Carole Lombard are not dead to him. They’re just as alive and present when those old movies are on. And he also talked about how he was feeling down one day, and putting on a classic film made him feel better. Nothing could be more relatable.

And then he stuck around to introduce Counsellor at Law, a film he personally chose. To hear him gush about a movie was a real treat, and he somehow got me even more excited about the film. He called it one of John Barrymore’s greatest performances, and he was right. One important note that stuck with me too: most of the other special guests left right after their introduction. Not Leonard Maltin. After the film ended, I saw him leave the theater. He stayed for the whole movie, like the true fan he is. Seeing this top flight Barrymore film was a real treat.

I stayed at the Hollywood Legion for one more film, enticed by Diner being a first time watch with the cast present. Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly, Steve Guttenberg and Paul Reiser drew a big crowd, which led to one of the few things that annoyed me about the festival. The massive theater was filling up, and suddenly everyone was trying to find extra seats for their group. “Is that seat taken?” “Are those two taken?” I don’t know! Worst of all, some guy specifically asked me to save two seats . . . and then he was there by himself and needed one seat. That’s the last time I play usher. It all culminated with an elderly woman with a cane being unable to find a seat because no one would move over. Finally we moved over for her, and she promptly fell asleep.

And then after all this hassle, a big chunk of the audience left after the introduction.

Anyway, the Diner discussion had its own separate flavor from the rest of the events I was at. This felt like a bunch of friends reuniting and chatting, thrilled to be with each other. It was fitting given the tone of Diner itself. This was quite the pleasant surprise, walking into a movie I knew nothing about and falling for it. It was just a very nice time capsule and buddy movie, a world you can get lost in.

The day after that still wasn’t over. Baby’s first midnight screening was here. A combination of factors made it hard to resist: Polyester in Odorama with Mario Cantone and Mink Stole. I’ve come to love Mario Cantone through his holiday appearances on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, and getting to see him so soon after his shocking passing would mean a lot. And I also knew it would be fun.

The interactions between Mario Cantone and Mink Stole were enough to wake me up this late in the evening. Really, Mario accomplished that before Mink Stole was even introduced. It was a chaotic and funny discussion, just as I had hoped. Mario Cantone even through in some of his impressions for no real reason. Was there any connection to this movie and his post-stroke Bette Davis impression? Hell no. And I didn’t care one bit. I was just glad to see it.

And Polyester, a first time watch for me, was so much fun. John Waters even made a surprise video appearance before it started. It’s such a brilliant crafted fun movie, perfectly suited for a crazy ride when you’re just a little sleep deprived. Yes, the Odorama isn’t quite a science that works all the time. Some of the scents didn’t quite come through. But others did work, and it was just a fun communal experience. I could hear the groans around me when a particularly unpleasant scent came up. Would we really scratch that one and smell it? Of course we would.

Strangely, I was a little proud of myself for powering through such a busy day. I saw a lot of things and stayed out far later than I usually would. Even someone like me can be compelled to do things like that when there’s memorable movies and people around.

Transmissions from TCMFF: Day Two, Or Bruce Dern Day

The first full day of TCMFF was upon me. And based on how I handled the start of the day, you would think I had just fallen off the turnip truck. I was rolling out of my room nary an hour before Dinner at Eight was set to begin at 9am, somehow exiting at the same time roommate/partner in crime Robyn was leaving for a much later screening. But I am nothing if not a fast walker, so I was determined to get the Hollywood Legion Theater for my first festival serving of John Barrymore. It had to happen. I had the bright orange Barrymore shirt on, after all.

(Side note: if you want to make sure your friends can find you at an event, a brightly colored shirt is a great idea. My Barrymore shirt could be seen from space, and I got noticed no less than four different times because of it.)

Dinner at Eight took place at the venue I’d spend the most time at during TCMFF, the Hollywood Legion Theater. It’s a fabulous large theater, made even cooler by the vintage bar in the basement. As a plus of the HBO sponsorship of the building, endless amounts of free popcorn and HBO Max branded cookies are provided. It’s a great deal for those days when meal times for in short supply, provided you remember that the HBO Max icing can turn your lips purple.

This was such a fun movie to see in theaters, with Marie Dressler and Billie Burke being hugely over with the crowd that was present. And only at TCMFF will aspic become a crowd pleaser. It’s such a shame that it fell down on the floor.

With the first movie of the day done, I took some time off for a proper meal and a pilgrimage to a most important spot in Hollywood: the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley. To spend some time in a location where several classic comedies were filmed was quite special. I especially appreciated that the area gets the proper recognition it deserves now, thanks to a plaque and street sign. Unlike when Buster Keaton was in this spot, I exited on foot. My stunt work isn’t as good.

Up next was the Bruce Dern portion of the day. Although Club TCM had plenty of people in it for the interview, there were seats open up front. It felt kind of like when no one wants to sit in the front of the room in class. Perhaps they were intimidated by Bruce Dern. Perhaps they were right to be. And that’s how Keisha, Robyn and I ended up in a prime spot in the second row, the back of our heads in every shot of the interview like an MST3K segment.

Bruce Dern came out just the way you hoped he would: like he just rolled out of bed. He had on his best IHOP hat to complete the look. If I knew he had such an affinity for the place, I would have staked out the nearest IHOP for him while eating copious amounts of pancakes. The interview did get off to scary start, as Dern leaned back and immediately tipped over in his chair. Luckily, he the stage backdrop held him up and he never actually landed. They just tipped him back into place and he acted like nothing happened. A different chair was even offered to him and he refused, citing his want to have the armrests on the original chair. And then it was on.

What happened next was technically an interview. Ben Makiewicz was there and he had a couple different notebooks of things to ask Bruce. And occasionally he did ask a question. But this was a show Bruce Dern was in charge of. As we went onto his first tangent, he stopped to say “I don’t mean to take over your interview.” He then proceeded to do just that, telling an endless tale of stories that didn’t really connect to much of what Ben had just asked him.

And I loved every second of it.

Bruce Dern is a fascinating man, and he controlled the room for every second he was on stage. At times his comments were scattershot–I’m not exactly sure how it came up that he thought George Hamilton was too handsome to be a movie star. But the man knows how to tell a story, and has an excellent memory to go along with the tales he weaves. We heard about it all: starting out working with Elia Kazan (who he only called Mr. Kazan throughout the hour), his early days where he was not allowed to speak while he acted, how Hitchcock created a shot in Family Plot, lunches with Quentin Tarantino, and most notably, the time he grabbed the phone out of the hands of casting director Lynn Stalmaster and grabbed him by the lapel.

We also learned so much about his philosophy on acting and the crafting of a Dernsie. He doesn’t like to rehearse because he wants to take the actors and director by surprise on a first take. And he advocates for taking chances on the first take, because the director always has something the actor doesn’t: take two.

Most surprising of all was his specific recall of lines of dialogue from his films. At various points, he was no longer Bruce Dern. He became the character with all the intensity. And look, I can’t say he actually ever looked at me while he said the lines. But it felt like he was. I felt that intensity as if he was looking right at me and into me. They were powerful moments, and the whole interview was powerful. Outside of meeting friends, this was the first moment of the festival that felt truly transcendent. We all experienced a special moment that we would never forget. I could have listened to Bruce Dern talk all day.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Bruce Dern next appeared to introduce Nebraska, an event I knew I had to be at long before I knew how great Dern would be. It’s a movie that touched me deeply the very first time I saw it, and seeing him introduce it made it even more special. Jacqueline Stewart had the task of trying to wrangle Bruce this time, and she asked good questions that he only sort of answered. While he didn’t offer much new information about the film he was introducing, he still offered a fresh slate of great stories. He told the crowd that he recently finished second in an over age 80 race. He didn’t say as much, but it’s probably safe to bet he’s annoyed that he didn’t finish first.

As Bruce Dern exited the stage, he shouted one more thing. The microphone was off, but the powerful voice came through clearly: “We make these movies for you,” he said. And that’s how Bruce Dern almost made me cry even before the movie that makes me cry started.

Nebraska was even better than I remembered, with each member of the ensemble cast being pitch perfect. We made an early exit to ensure that we could fit in the final film of the day and to save ourselves from crying in public.

The Gay Divorcee was final film of the night, it what would be my only successful attempt at getting into the notably minuscule theater 4. It’s a good thing that Astaire and Rogers were dazzling me, as that’s the only thing that could keep me awake with how I was dragging after a long day. Seeing them on the big screen was such a treat. And it’s not every day you hear Eric Blore and Edward Everett Horton get applause.

The first full day of TCMFF was very long, and I was very ready for sleep after all that had gone down. But every moment of it was so worth it. The combination of friends, movies and a fellow in an IHOP made it one that would never be forgotten.

Transmissions from TCMFF: Day One

I arrived for my maiden voyage at TCMFF on Wednesday night, ready for a full day of pre-festival activities before the real events started. Wednesday brought a little of the Hollywood experience, as I got a taste of Musso and Frank’s at a late dinner. Please spare a thought for the poor waiter who could not hide his disappointment when he found out that the two people walking in were splitting an entree *and* not drinking anything. His annoyance every time he looked at our table was palpable. Our table was so bare of any alcohol or empty plates that two other waiters approached us, assuming we hadn’t been served. We were fine, just two non-drinkers who were not particularly hungry at 10pm on Wednesday. On east coast time, no less.

Thursday began in earnest with a trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Even with a tight schedule on the docket, this was an essential excursion to make outside of the festival itself. And my friend Robyn and I were immediately rewarded by running into Twitter pal and fabulous TCM writer Hannah. This would be the first of countless times I would run into someone from online, and each time it was delightful and wonderful experience. It never got old.

Like all good museums, I was immediately sucked in by the Academy Museum and the time flew by. It is truly a remarkable museum for any movie fan, full of movie props and dedicated sections to things like animation. The history here is immense.

Spoiler alert.
Yes, it is incredibly dorky that I took a picture of where Jacqueline Stewart sits during Silent Sunday Nights. Just be glad I didn’t take a picture sitting there.
Numerous Oscars are displayed. Seen here is the highly questionable Mary Pickford award for Coquette.

The museum also deserves a lot of credit for their critical and introspective displays about the more problematic parts of movie history. Punches aren’t pulled here. The information regarding the history of blackface and other racist portrayals in film history is thorough and shocking. There is also great information regarding the continued disparity for jobs for women in the industry. This is a museum that gives the proper critical information needed to understand these darker aspects.

From there, it was time for the first actual TCM event: the Meet TCM panel. Nothing quite struck fear in my heart like some of the more . . . passionate . . . members of the TCM fanbase asking questions to TCM executives and producers. Mercifully, the questions were not bad at all. Hanging around before and after the event gave me the chance to meet even more people.

I saved myself the embarrassment of failing at the trivia event and made an outfit change for the #TCMParty group photo and the opening night reception. Finally, there was a club event I actually fit in well with.

Eddie Muller was the first host to make an appearance at the poolside reception, looking about as comfortable as I am to be out in bright sunlight. It was a very fun event overall, getting to meet more people I’ve known from online and taking in the atmosphere of being with like minded individuals. This was also where I first experienced the funny thing of people liking each other’s tweets while sitting next to each other. Surely the Germans have a word for such a sensation.

As the night wore on, the strange reality began to set in that people actually were excited to see me. I’m still struggling to understand this concept, but I’m rolling with it by now. Certainly it was much easier to understand that my dog Scotty had a fanbase. He’s much cuter than I am anyway.

The opening reception and constant supply of free food wound down, which meant it was time for the first movie of the festival–and the first choice to make. Jewel Robbery seemed like a no brainer, but I had gotten convinced to check out the experience a poolside screening of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It seemed like a good idea to experience that part of the festival experience, as the other poolside screenings definitely didn’t fit into my schedule. (And based on the footage I saw later, it’s a good thing I missed the Blue Hawaii screening and can’t be blackmailed with embarrassing videos.)

Seeing part of Fast Times with a fun group of people was enjoyable, but leaving early for my first real full film of the festival: Hail the Conquering Hero. A favorite Preston Sturges film of mine, I was very excited to see such a classic comedy with an appreciative audience. And getting to experience the audience for the first time was pretty special. I’ve been lucky enough to see some old movies in theaters, but it’s never been anything like this. They applauded when actors appeared on screen! They laughed at all the jokes! This was my kind of crowd.

I hung around the lobby area a little afterwards, as the other movies hadn’t yet let out. There were plenty more people to meet and talk to in the time that followed, which only hammered home how great this environment was. And in a major surprise, one of my B Movie Maniacs Twitter comrades (Priscilla) had made a last minute arrival to the festival and we got to see each other for the first of many times over the weekend. Once again I was shocked and taken aback that people were excited to see me.

The first day wrapped up in that time in the theater that followed. I had gotten my first taste of the TCM Film Festival, and I already knew this was the place to be. I was among my people. And up next was a full day of this.

Show People and Setsuko Hara: My Top Ten Film Discoveries of 2021

Well, at least 2021 was slightly better than 2020, right? Right?!

With 2020 being, you know, I was like everybody else in watching a lot more movies at home than ever. There was nothing else to do, what with the deadly pandemic and all. At least in 2021 I’ll be out more and will see fewer movies, I thought.

That was partially true, at least. As the pandemic reaches its latest sequel, I did get to get out on occasion and see some movies in theaters again. This included many highlights: private screenings of The General and Creepshow, the silent version of Hitchcock’s Blackmail with live music, and finally seeing Halloween on the big screen.

And I watched a whole lot of movies at home too. There were so many good choices for this list, and many didn’t make the cut. What’s most surprising about the list is that half of them come from the year 1928. The big discovery of this year is that the end of the silent period, 1927-1929, is one of the greatest in movie history. I have a 2022 goal of writing about that. But for now, enjoy those films and others below.

These are my top ten first time watches of 2021, presented in chronological order.

The Big Parade (1925)

All I really knew going into The Big Parade was that it was a war epic. In reality, it’s so much more than that. What drew me in most of all was the romance between John Gilbert and Renee Adoree. It’s one of the more pure romances you’ll ever see. They don’t even speak the same language, but fall in love just from spending time together–and from sharing gum. When they finally get separated, I was practically yelling “find him!” at the TV.

The war scenes are so well done. King Vidor, who will appear again later on in this list, creates incredible drama and heartbreak as we see battle breaks out and men dropping left and right. It all leads to the heartbreaking reality of what war does to a man. And as for the ending, prepare to cry a lot. A lot.

The Kid Brother (1927)

Although not one of the more famous films from the peak of Harold Lloyd, it’s right up there with his best work. This reminds me of The General in one specific way. Although both are nominally comedies, there’s more going on in substance and genre. In the case of this one, Harold Lloyd gives us a western as well, along with more romance than usual. Jobyna Ralston plays the romantic lead, and has a lot of sweet moments with Lloyd. Their chemistry adds a lot to the movie.

With all those differences, it all leads to a classic Harold Lloyd finale: big action packed climax with many twists and turns. This is Harold Lloyd at his best.

Shooting Stars (1928)

If you love silent movies, this is a must watch. It’s all about the behind the scenes making of a silent film. We see all kinds of backstage stuff, including how silent comedies and westerns are made. The shots of movie sets are fantastic. If that was all this movie had, it would be worth it.

Luckily, the plot is also great. It’s a simple love triangle plot, but it gets the job done. Some crime and suspense elements add to a gripping finale. This film is quite the experience.

Show People (1928)

Speaking of movies about silent films, this is another one that fits the bill. Show People is a love letter to silent movies from start to finish, full of behind the scenes shots. It’s also got lots of fun cameos and jokes about real movies. This includes Marion Davies the character meeting Marion Davies the actor.

Her whole storyline is so much fun, working her way up the ranks of acting in Hollywood. Marion Davies is always a delight in a comedy, and this is no exception. So much fun.

Underground (1928)

Underground got me right from the opening shot: the camera dramatically pulling up to an underground stop. The first ten minutes of the movie are just a slice of life on the London underground, and it’s fantastic. From there, we get a simple plot of two friends fighting over the same woman. It’s told in a way that’s anything but typical. There’s all kinds of unique POV shots, shots from the ground, and even shots from a mirror. It all leads to a Hitchcock/Third Man style ending. This movie never lets up.

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

During my October horror movie viewing, I like to create interesting double features for myself. I paired this one with Mr. Sardonicus for the (I think) clever theme of “you should smile more.” What took me by surprise is how The Man Who Laughs is hardly a horror film at all. It’s more of a tragedy. The fate of Conrad Veidt is horrible, and you feel for him the entire way. It also makes his relationship with Mary Philbin so pure and sweet. The performances are wonderful, and the smile makeup effect will stick with you.

The Crowd (1928)

The Crowd is just as modern as ever and is one of the finest films at capturing what ordinary life is like. All the normal moments are presented: childhood dreams and trauma, falling in love, the struggles of marriage and making a living, the randomness of good events and horrible tragedies. Although it’s told in stark images, everything that happens ins relatable: a fight breaks out over something small, a happy moment occurs in the middle of lingering financial strife. And most notably, the film portrays the rising and falling nature life can take–how one never knows when things will turn in our favor or go down in flames.

It also portrays the realities of life for the average American honestly and without flinching. It pulls no punches about how unfair life can be when trying to make ends meet. At one point, James Murray is told that the world just doesn’t stop because of his problems. And when it’s said, it doesn’t feel like a malicious statement of melodrama. It just feels real. And so does the whole film. This is as real as it gets.

Why Be Good? (1929)

This year was my introduction to Colleen Moore, and boy do I love her. Her personality shines through the entire film and makes it so much fun. She plays a flapper who likes to go out and have fun. Some movies might have portrayed this in a negative light, but not here. She’s just a normal person who wants to work and enjoy herself after. And she doesn’t want to be supported by a rich guy either.

It’s a surprisingly feminist film. Her mother always understands and supports her, and you want to stand up and cheer when Moore finally says “You men! You insist on a girl being just what you want–and then you bawl her for being it.”

Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring wins the award for the film that most wrecked me this year. In fact, I may never recover from it. I have never related more to a character than the one played by Setsuko Hara. She says at one point “I’m happy just as I am,” and that about sums up the struggle of the movie. It’s an ordinary struggle in some ways, being about wanting to be yourself. But it’s not ordinary in other ways.

This is one of the few characters that embraces being happy and single. As someone who has been single and enjoyed it for much of my life, it was a powerful message. She is happy just as she is, but finds that society doesn’t want her to be that way. If you’ve ever been asked when you’re going to get married or when you’re going to have a kid, this character’s situation will touch you deeply.

Tokyo Story (1953)

The second Setsuko Hara film on this list is also an emotional gut punch. This one is about families growing older and changing, and it’s also immensely relatable. Much of the story centers around older parents being somewhat ignored by their children, but it doesn’t feel like it’s being done in a fictionally exaggerated way. It feels like the way real families can change and drift apart. No one means to do it. It just . . . happens. That’s what makes it heartbreaking. If you’ve seen your parents gets get older or die, this one will sting quite a bit.

National Silent Movie Day: What to Watch on TCM

September 29th is National Silent Movie Day, which should pretty much be a national holiday for someone like me. The movement for this national day of silent flickers was actually created by someone in the same city as me, and I can forever curse him for thinking of it before I did. It’s picked up around the country. This includes TCM, who will be airing all silent films or related documentaries on the 29th.

What should you watch from their lineup? Well, basically everything. It’s an incredible crash course into the world of silent film, featuring movies from a variety of countries and genres, many featuring some of the most important stars and directors of the era. But let’s say you’re not quite a freak who wants to see the majority of the films on TV this day. If you’re looking for more of a silent meal than a buffet, here’s three films in the lineup you should go out of your way to see:

Flesh and the Devil (1926) – 6:15am ET

If you don’t know about the romantic chemistry between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo . . . brace yourself. This is where it all started for the two of them, both on screen and off. The very real fireworks in the film turned into an equally real relationship between the two, which the press and public loved. This first film was such a hit that their second film was titled Love, specifically so it could be advertised as “Garbo and Gilbert in Love.”

Apart from just the great film romance, this is also an good opportunity to see John Gilbert in his prime. His name has far too often been associated with the false myth that his voice ruined his career when sound came in. These unfounded stories overshadow a fantastic film career, filled with amazing and layered performances. If you like him here, there’s a lot more where that came from.

Within Our Gates (1920) – 12:30pm ET

As far as a rare film with historical significance, this may be the most important film in the lineup. Within Our Gates is one of the first films by pioneering director Oscar Micheaux, and is believed to be the oldest surviving film by an African-American director.

Seen as a response to The Birth of a Nation, this film portrays the much more real world of white supremacy and the horrific racism and violence committed against black people in the early part of the century. It can be a hard film to watch with its gritty and realistic portrayal of these events, but that’s part of what makes it sound important and gripping. It’s a film that needed to be made, especially given some of the whitewashed material that was already out there. Michaeux’s often non-linear approach adds to the experience of the film as well.

Sherlock Jr. (1924) – 1:15am ET

One of my favorite things to watch is a silent comedy. They’re a unique brand of smart and fun humor, and every major star brings their own special kind of character and story to their films. Nothing quite brightens the mood like the fast-paced insanity of a silent comedy. Buster Keaton was one of the masters, and this is one of his masterworks.

Sherlock Jr. features some of the most impressive effects you’ll ever see, both visually amazing and wildly funny. The scene where Keaton steps into a movie screen has been an influence on other works, although never better than here. And once he’s even, a rapid fire stream of insane stunts and gags continues. On top of that, the romance plot in the story is adorable. This is as good as silent comedy gets.