Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 7– 2/16/08

Filed under: Humor,Jewish Themes,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 5:35 pm on Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Shining Through (1992), Melanie Griffith plays a different sort of ethnic role than she did in last week’s review (KCK, # 6) of A Stranger Among Us (1992).                          

In the first film, she portrayed an undercover cop pretending to be a returning member of a Jewish Hasid sect in New York City.  So…she was an actor pretending to be someone, who was also pretending to be someone else. 

Which by some eerie coincidence is exactly  what she does in the next film. 

In the second film, she’s a young woman in pre-World War II days, about 1940, living near the US Capital.  Her mother is Irish, this time, and her father is Jewish.  She also has Jewish cousins living a fragile existence in Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.  Although she doesn’t assume any obvious or familiar ethnic stereo-typical mannerisms to establish that she’s a young East-Coast Jewish girl–which is a good thing to me–the filmmakers must have assumed that the audience would take it on faith that she was who she was supposed to be.

Melanie’s character also has an encyclopedic knowledge of all sorts of obscure movie plots from that post-Depression time and earlier, and that is a key element in the overall story.  All her clever ideas, ways of saving herself when in great danger and the way she chooses to complete the complex and perilous task she is entrusted to do, are derived from moments she’s remembered from the uncountable movies she’s seen.

Well, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a mind like that, totally filled with memories of thousands of movies.  It seems like you’d have to be a Cyborg to retain all that minutia.  Pass the oil, please, Arnold….  (Read on …)

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 6 – 2/9/08

Filed under: Humor,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 1:11 pm on Saturday, February 9, 2008

On the topic of: Unexpected Pleasures of viewing  sexy blonde actresses pretending to be Jewish (excluding Marilyn Monroe – who would be 82 now if she was still living — and who converted before she married Arthur Miller, in July 1956, and the stunning Scarlett Johansson, who doesn’t need to)  I offer the delectable:

                               Melanie Griffith

Who, in an interesting example of strategic career choices, decided to make movies about these exotic Biblical people, twice.

In A stranger Among Us  (1992), she play a tough cop who goes undercover by assuming the identity of a Hasidic single woman who has ‘strayed’ from the sect and then chooses to return to it.  This allows her to have no connections to any of the other Hasidic communities in the Northeastern US area and therefore eliminating any way of tracing who she was, if some suspicious person wanted to do that. 

She is first introduced as gorgeous, physically competent, brave, very effective with a gun and sexually free young woman, but whose life is going nowhere.  She comes across as vaguely unhappy and aimless.  But, of course, still well built.

Then a murder occurs in a New York City’s Jewish Hasidic community and she is assigned to find out who did it–a difficult task in the insular, extremely observant religious community.  

After she is allowed to live in a kind of dorm as a single woman with no money, and gradually blends in with the sharply gender-divided responsibilities each person assumes, she displays a kind of fascination with what she learns and wonders why the women put up with so many restrictions on their freedom of choice, or in other words, the unrestricted  life Melanie is living.

Besides being a murder mystery, the movie is a glimpse into a seldom seen on the screen, every day frozen-in-time world of the Hasids, who also speak Yiddish almost exclusively among themselves, but not around Melanie.  Yiddish–a Middle-European dialect that arose about a thousand years ago as millions of Jews gradually migrated north and east from their original Middle Eastern homeland–is a blend of German, Polish and Hebrew.                                                 (Read on …)

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 5 – 2/2/08

Filed under: Humor,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 1:58 pm on Saturday, February 2, 2008

Now, here’s a perfect reason for me to wish I had a world-wide readership of hundreds of millions of movie lovers who shared my taste in great films:

Along comes a truly superb new movie, “Honeydrippers”, a new John Sayles film that is playing in probably twelve art theaters, total, across America and it’ll probably disappear beneath the radar without making barely a ripple.  What a travesty!!

To me, power is the ability to do good on a large scale, not just to savor one’s invincibility.

If I had power like that, I’d compel writers all across America to command movie theater-goers to rush down to their local movie houses, buy lots of tickets and to support Sayles’ wonderful new movie.  Or maybe people would go just because I told them to, because they trusted my taste and judgment.  I’m pretty sure I’m not there yet, in terms of my powers of persuasion.  But…that could change.  Persistence helps, and this is my column # 5.

I met Sayles once, years ago, at the Javits Center in New York City where they held the National Stationary Show every May.  I had a bookstore at the time and we sold tons of postcards and movie posters and other items you could only find at a giant showplace like the Javits Center.  I was addicted to independent cinema since I was a teen, so even though indie movie director/writer/producer John Sayles was not a face you’d ever see on the cover of any magazine, like say, Alfred Hitchcock was, years ago, or Martin Scorsese might be today,  I knew immediately who he was. 

(Read on …)

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 4 -1/26/08

Filed under: Humor,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 1:37 pm on Saturday, January 26, 2008

   So, I was thinking about America’s nineteen century two-term President Andrew Jackson—whom I sure wish was president of the USA right now, because even dead, he’d be far better than our current disaster—and that led me to thinking about the actor Yul Brynner.  Brynner’s greatest fame came from playing The King and I (1956) and as Chris, in The Magnificent Seven (1960) one of the most revered Westerns of all time, even though based on the earlier Japanese Seven Samurai (1954)  

People who know me won’t be very surprised at this arc of connection, because I find that thinking about time is very fluid and a person’s conscious memories and subconscious memories can make lightening fast connections on the slightest thread-like basis. 

That must be the case in this instance, because the distance between Andrew Jackson (died 1862) and Yul Brynner (died 1985) is a lot more than six degrees of separation, because Jackson, the 8th U.S. President, was born in South Carolina 148 years before Brynner, born (some people speculate) on Sakhalin Island (east of Siberia and north of Japan)  in 1915.

So, here’s the thought process that connects those historic people to this movie, The Buccaneer (1958) I saw as a child, and really liked: 

Many years ago, I read this story about Andrew Jackson, born in March, 1767.  He was the son of Irish immigrants and orphaned at the age of fourteen.  At thirteen, he enlisted in the Revolutionary War as a mounted orderly, at a time in 1780 when the rebelling American Colonial forces under General George Washington were experiencing heavy losses against the British General Sir William Cornwallis.

(Read on …)

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 3–1/20/08

Filed under: Humor,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 2:33 pm on Sunday, January 20, 2008

  It is SO cold in Chicago, my wife Joy and I are now sleeping with our three dogs, Betsy the complacent Beagle, Rosy the hyper miniature Dachshund, and Jasmine the beautiful Spaniel/Labrador, PLUS a borrowed very white and neurotic Boxer, Burly, who doesn’t mind standing on a person’s chest if it makes it easier for him to see something outside of the bedroom window.   That, a thick warm quilt and some human cuddling and we make it thru the night.  It’s a Mixed-Mammal Jamboree!!


I rarely see a movie twice.  I often see some movie critics say, “Oh, I saw Bicycle Thief (1947) 40 times!” or, “Citizen Kane (1941) is so endlessly fascinating, I’ve seen it at least once a week for the last twenty years!!”.

Well, good for them. 

I have a life, four children, (dogs) a kind of a job and not the luxury of such an indulgence of time to lavish on filmed art.   There are far too many new and wonderful movies pouring into America every week for me to choose to miss most of their short theater release time to go and see any movie twice. 

Besides, none of the examples given above are Westerns, which are, of course, excluded from any of this discussion of limited choices and time. 

Seeing Shane (1953) is a religious experience and any additional viewings gets me extra points with the Movie Gods, for the eventual time when I want an excellent seat for the Great Drive-In in the sky.  But…I can wait a while for that.

However, I have seen The Great Debaters twice and just may see it again.

Man, this is a stunning movie about obscure Black Southern United States history I never heard of, with a cast I mostly have never seen.  So much talent exists in the Black acting community and it somehow remains virtually invisible.   Producers and directors go hunting for fresh faces in places as far away as Australia to cast their movies (ok, yeah, Naomi Watts is hot, yes…) and yet here in America there exists so many unused terrific actors and actresses. 

(Read on …)

Katzman’s Cinema Komments # 2–1/12/08

Filed under: Humor,Katzman's 13 Vintage Movie Reviews,Katzman's Cinema Komments — Bob at 1:45 pm on Saturday, January 12, 2008

By your cinema slave, Robert M. Katzman

Well, a different week and some other movies for you (and me) to think about.

1) Years ago, I saw this delightfully imaginative Czech animated film, more oriented toward adults than children, but quite surreal in its imagery called Fantastic Planet.  I read that within it are subtle political references to the Czech desire to be free from Russian domination.  I am no authority on that subject, but since the film was made in 1973, five years after the Soviet Union’s bloody and brutal suppression of a Czech independence movement in August 1968, that wouldn’t be so surprising. 

By coincidence, that is also same month and year of the infamous Chicago Police Department’s equally bloody and brutal suppression of thousands of young,  politically liberal and/or independent student voices protesting Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago Machine and the Democratic National Convention across the street from the Downtown Conrad Hilton Hotel  in what was then called Grant Park.  

My co-writer of this DifferentSlants.com blog, Rick Munden, was there with other friends of ours and told me he was caught in the Police and National Guard round-up and enveloped in a cloud of tear gas.  No one was killed, and Rick and his friends escaped the net, but the violence was horrifying to the city and nation, and terrifying to all its victims. 

Now, that first Mayor Daley’s son is the current Chicago Mayor and that internationally known battleground site in Grant Park is now called “Millennium Park” very neatly obliterating any unpleasant historical references to the Daley family, who have run the City of Chicago political world for a total of about 40 years, and counting.  Now, that’s a ‘political dynasty’, man!

In any event, rent or buy the animated film.  It’s wonderful and not impossible to find, with a little effort.

2) A relatively current Western from a few years back, Open Range, fits my Western film addiction perfectly.  Kevin Costner, who should only make Westerns from this point on, and Robert Duvall as his much older friend and trail boss, are a perfect on-screen relationship, both effectively displaying decades of hard won experience and competence carving out a physically demanding existence in an un-romanticized  harsh Western landscape.           (Read on …)

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