Category Archives: film

Making Merry on April 23rd

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Shakespeare insult mug – a study aid

Prithee, gentle readers, knowest ye the day that slips, like knave of hearts, into mine bosom on the 23rd of April? Why, ’tis naught but the day to maketh merry in the verbal vein of our dear bard, William!

In other words, April 23rd is “Talk Like Shakespeare Day.” I’m alternately thrilled and terrified when it rolls around. There’s no question it takes energy and commitment, but if you can pull it off, it’s highly entertaining. Here’s what usually happens: I’ll talk like Shakespeare when I first greet someone but then revert to my usual manner of speaking. If I’m met with a blank stare, my Shakespearean talk will peter out fast, but when my conversational partner is into it, we might trade Elizabethan banter for 15 minutes or so.

This year the festal day is especially fun because my writing peeps in The Journey are just getting back into Shakespeare Reader’s Theatre.

Here’s how that started: last summer, inspired by Joss Whedon’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing, Tim (aka NewMexicoKid) decided we needed to get together and read Shakespeare. We met a few times and read from The Winter’s Tale and the Henry trilogy (that would be Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2 and Henry V) and it was almost as much fun as riding bicycles. I got to play Falstaff! Never in my life could I have predicted that. I said at the time that all the Journey would have to do would be to start up on American musicals. Let me play Professor Harold Hill and my thespian dreams will be fulfilled.

Anyway, it’s once more into the breach, dear friends. Shakespeare Readers Theatre revives this Saturday. I can’t be at the first session, but we have another one coming up early in May, and I’ll be there with bells on. Or jester’s motley. Point is, I’ll be there. I start practicing for it on April 23. Here is a helpful site, if you want to play along.

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A Smile for Mickey Rooney

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Mickey Rooney

“And if you stamp on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn around and smile…”
— from “Celluloid Heroes” by Ray Davies

Mickey Rooney was a genuine Hollywood legend, but before hearing of his death yesterday, I can’t remember the last time I thought of him. He wasn’t exactly a box office draw in my lifetime. My introduction to him came while I was in college, in the days before cable TV, some stations would run movies overnight on Saturdays, between, say 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. They might be mystery, horror, or science fiction marathons, or they might be some other genre.

Often these stations ran Hollywood musicals. One night might be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers night; another might belong to Gene Kelly.

One Saturday night I got drawn into MGM backyard musicals and stayed up until dawn. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland owned that subgenre. “Let’s put on a show!” was the tagline for every last one of them. Mickey would be the mover and shaker, while Judy Garland was the girl next door who carried a torch for him. Mickey was easily distracted, and would break poor Judy’s heart multiple times before finally realizing she was the only girl for him. This usually happened right before (or after) the fabulous success of their DIY show, which they never expected would come off properly.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: The Blues Brothers owed a lot to those MGM backyard musicals. Other than the musical style, the main difference for me was that the women were not treated as kindly in The Blues Brothers.

But to return to Mickey Rooney: if they personified the tornado in The Wizard of Oz, he would have been a shoe-in to play the part. He went through money, drugs, alcohol, and wives (eight!) like few other people, even in Hollywood. He had an amazingly varied career. People didn’t often take him seriously, but he had serious chops. Both Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn, when asked who the best actor in Hollywood was, named Mickey Rooney. Tennessee Williams is reported to have said Mickey Rooney was “the only great actor in the United States. He can do anything.”  It’s a compelling argument: Rooney had a varied career, playing roles as diverse as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Army in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)  and Bill Sackter in Bill (1981).

He did his job, making MGM piles of money in the 30s, but he showed himself capable of much more. He continued to act after WWII, but his youthful, unsubtle energy had gone out of style. People didn’t remember (or didn’t care about) some of his excellent dramatic work. There was a long period of his life when he would do almost anything to keep body and soul together. Supposedly for $500 you could get him to go to private parties and pretend he was best friends with the host.

Finally, with the help of his last wife Jan, he reinvented himself in 1979 by appearing on Broadway in Sugar Babies and reminding people that there was a reason he was considered legendary. His life wasn’t always easy, even after this late vindication. But no one deserved a comeback more than he did.

Today’s my day to “turn around and smile” for Mickey Rooney.

Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Happy Birthday to Me

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Mmmmm…cake

We celebrated up a storm, starting on Saturday. I used part of my combination Christmas/birthday gift. Every year for the last decade or so, my sister has gotten me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier. We usually choose the 4-play subscription, unless the season doesn’t interest us that much. This year was interesting. We’ve already seen Cyrano de Bergerac, Merry Wives of Windsor, and now Gypsy. (Henry V is still to come—woo-hoo!)

As I’ve noted in previous posts, Chicago Shakespeare doesn’t only produce Shakespeare. They’ve put up Molière and Sheridan, among others. And director Gary Griffin has an ongoing interest in exploring the works of Stephen Sondheim, so we’ve also seen A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George, and now Gypsy.

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CST production photo by Michael Brosilow

I thought Gypsy was swell. The cast was good from top to bottom. I went to school with some of the actors, like Rengin Altay and Matt DeCaro, so it’s always a kick to see them in professional productions.

Maybe it’s goofy to single out performers, since one of the great strengths of the show was how well the ensemble performed as a whole, but I should probably mention that Jessica Rush as Louise and Keith Kupferer as Herbie were very affecting. The single best part of the show for me was the first act finale, and the reason it was so chilling was because of the interplay among Louise, Herbie, and Rose. Of course, Louise Pitre as Rose was wonderful.

I was iffy with with a couple of artistic choices in the second act. It was hard to tease out whether these choices belonged to the director or to the actor(s), but in any case, they were minor. I can definitely recommend this production to anyone who still has the opportunity to see it. Get there by March 28, 2014.

The rest of the long birthday weekend was similarly excellent. Cookie (who joined Sis and me at the theatre) bought dinner for all of us, including BK and our son.

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We got carry-out from Clara’s

Clara’s heard it was my birthday and gave us a quart of pasta fazool for the price of a bowl, and topped dinner off with free tiramisu. Yum!

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Did I mention the cake?

On Sunday, BK, Son, Cookie and I had chocolate birthday cake (drool). Then Sunday night I experimented with tweeting (@cmbrennan09) through the Oscars, which made the long telecast more entertaining. It was especially fun to come up with my John Travolta name—Catapult Branana. That’s not what I got from the “official” John Travolta name generator, though. You can play along here.

Monday (my real birthday), my daughter Lori called to wish me a happy birthday and generally warm my heart. She had already sent my birthday gift a few weeks early. She knitted her fingers to the bone to make it. I’ve been wearing it, and it is gorgeous!

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Fabulous hat, right?

I actually got a bit of work done. Revision. Scary! But you feel so virtuous when you manage to make yourself do it. I also hit the gym. So I felt perfectly justified in taking off to go see American Hustle when BK came home early. We finished our evening with dinner at House of Emperor and a viewing of the latest episode of Castle. Sis called to offer birthday well wishes, as did Bro. What’s not to like?

My next post will contain a submission scoreboard update. Stay tuned.

Goodbye, Harold

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Harold Ramis photo by Justin Hoch

I will miss Harold Ramis. I’ve been interested in his career ever since I found out we went to the same university—though years apart. In addition, I spent many of my formative years in the Chicago area, just like Harold.

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Some of my favorite Harold Ramis movies

This was a man who knew how to do the hard work of comedy and make it look easy. Not only was he funny, but his work was never mean-spirited. It was character-driven comedy, which is my favorite kind. What I appreciate most about it is that it wasn’t the comedy of awkwardness. I’ve laughed at Steve Carell’s character in The Office, but I always felt guilty about it. I seldom (if ever) that way about the characters in Harold Ramis’s comedies. Malcolm Jones wrote a thoughtful celebration of Groundhog Day in The Daily Beast. I invite you to take a look.

If I could even begin to figure out how he managed to do what he did, I’d take a shot at it myself. For now, all I can do is admire him and be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy his work as a writer, director and actor. Thanks for the laughs, Harold. Thanks for Groundhog Day.

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A true classic

Rest in peace.