‘The Holiday’: a modern rom-com with a classic movie heart

I clearly remember watching the 2006 rom-com “The Holiday” for the first time, not expecting much more than another in a long line of agreeable but often interchangeable romantic comedies.

It would be a nice, but surely forgettable, two-hour escape using the familiar formula: two people meet-cute, fall for each and face obstacles that lead to a “grand gesture” to help them live happily ever.

I was wrong – “The Holiday” is a memorable rom-com that I get more emotionally involved in each time I watch it.

It’s a combination of the great cast (Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Jude Law and Eli Wallach – all who have never been more charming on film), relatable characters (we’ve all gone through the same things), a delightful comic touch, a few twists on rom-com tropes and the sense of joy that permeates this deeply emotional film.

The holiday of the title not only refers to the vacations the two female characters take, but also  celebrations of Hanukkah – often forgotten in holiday films – along with Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That’s why I chose this favorite rom-com to be part of the Happy Holidays blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.


But the reason the film is so memorable for me goes deeper. I am in love with “The Holiday” because it is unabashedly in love with love – be it romantic love, family love or the love of friends – and (sit down for this one) it is deeply in love with classic movies.

It’s not simply that writer and director Nancy Meyers has an old black and white movie playing in the background (plenty of films do that) or throws out classic film references at a quick clip. It’s how she weaved the movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood into the fabric of her script. You can’t separate the two and have the same movie. Continue reading “‘The Holiday’: a modern rom-com with a classic movie heart”

TCM Cruise memories: Learning Hollywood history from Mitzi Gaynor, Diane Ladd and Cicely Tyson

As we reminisce about the 2019 Turner Classic Movie Cruise, we talk about the great movies (there were nearly 100 shown), the varied entertainment options (trivia, Bingo), the port adventures and the delicious – and seemingly endless – array of food.

There are so many highlights from the TCM Cruise, which sailed from New York City to Bermuda from Oct. 22 to 27, 2019 on the Disney Magic, that it’s hard to choose a favorite. But I believe the memories we especially savor are those of the people: the cherished friends you only see at TCM events; the social media pals you finally meet in real life; and the TCM hosts and staff who make you feel like you’re one of the gang.

Then there are the stars. Is there anything more magical than hearing stories of classic Hollywood as they can only be told by the people who lived it? Not for me.

The 2019 cruise starred a trio of legendary actresses – Cicely Tyson, Diane Ladd and Mitzi Gaynor – who shared pieces of their lives and careers in ways that entertained us, inspired us and touched our hearts.

Through multiple interviews with TCM hosts, the actresses were gracious, giving and hilarious. They exuded strength and independence. There was much laughter, a few tears and moments that made our mouths drop open (in a good way).

Here is a sampling of my favorite moments and memories from the trio during their appearances.

Mitzi Gaynor

The image of Mitzi Gaynor coming on stage in a wheelchair in the Walt Disney Theatre was unsettling, but she quickly put our fears to rest when she told us she had injured herself doing a lift in rehearsals. This spunky 88-year-old is still going strong and nothing seems to hold her back.

TCM host Dave Karger led an hour-long talk with Mitzi Gaynor.

“You people are so beautiful. You people are so real. I love you all,” she said as she came out to a standing ovation, then set the tone for the rest of the interview. “By the way, I’m a widow and I’m very, very rich. Any Capricorn men who are free?”

Continue reading “TCM Cruise memories: Learning Hollywood history from Mitzi Gaynor, Diane Ladd and Cicely Tyson”

Classic films and special movie events in Buffalo for November

November is another full month of movie events in the Buffalo area including the Buffalo premiere of William Fichtner’s “Cold Brook,” to a slate of classic films, a few Oscar winners and a “Twilight Zone” celebration.

Here’s a look.

“Au Revoir les Enfants.” Director Louis Malle’s 1987 film based on his childhood in Nazi-occupied France will be shown as part of Buffalo Film Seminars. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Dipson Amherst.

“The Bikes of Wrath.” Buffalo premiere of documentary about five Australian friends who set out to bike from Oklahoma to California on the same route traveled in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Time: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Screening Room Cinema Café.

“Cold Brook.” Buffalo premiere of locally made film written, directed and starring William Fichtner. Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 8; 3 and 7 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10; 7 p.m. Nov. 11; 2 p.m. Nov. 12 and 13; 2 and 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Aurora Theatre.

“Demon Wind.” A man haunted for years by his grandparents’ deaths visits their old farm with a group of friends. Nothing good can come of this. Times: 7:30 and 9:35 p.m. Nov. 21 in the Dipson Amherst Theatre. Part of Thursday Night Terrors film series.

“Elf.” Will Ferrell stars as the childlike title character in this holiday family comedy. Time: 1 p.m. Nov. 30 in the Regal Quaker Crossing and Walden Galleria.

“The Fan Connection: A Buffalo Sabres Fan Documentary.” Filmmaker Mary Wall looks at the unwavering devotion of local Sabres fans. Time: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26 in the Screening Room.

“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Classic romantic fantasy about a widow who moves into a seaside home inhabited by the ghost of a sea captain. Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 15; 1 p.m. Nov. 16 (Mimosa Matinee) and 5 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Screening Room.

Al Pacino in one of the infamous scenes from “The Godfather Part II.” (Paramount)

“The Godfather Part II.” The 45th anniversary screenings of the film considered to be the greatest sequel ever made. Times: 3 p.m. Nov. 10 and 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at Regal Elmwood and Transit. Also 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Dipson Amherst and Regal Elmwood and Transit. Part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series.

“Goodfellas.” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 7 p.m. Nov. 22 (with Scorsese trivia afterward). Dinner and a movie night, 6 p.m. Nov. 16 (advance purchase required); $30 in the Screening Room.

“Hoop Dreams.” Documentary on two high school basketball players in Chicago who dream of playing in the NBA. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.

“Murderous Trance.” Josh Lucas stars in film inspired by true events surrounding hypnosis crimes in 1950s Denmark. Times: 6 p.m. Nov. 2, 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and 8 p.m. Nov. 7 (with music by the Impostores at 6 p.m.) in the Screening Room.

Jimmy Stewart in his pajamas and Grace Kelly shining in an Edith Head gown star in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”

“Rear Window.” Jimmy Stewart sees more than he bargained for when he watches his neighbors while convalescing with a broken leg. Grace Kelly and her wardrobe co-star. Times: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27, 29, 30 and Dec. 2 in the Screening Room.

“ROMA.” Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winning film about his youth in Mexico. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 26 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.

“Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear.” Called a “surreal meditation on faith and surfing,” this film has been popular on the midnight circuit. Time: 9:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Screening Room. $10.

“To Sleep With Anger.” Danny Glover stars as a drifter whose sudden appearance upends a family in South Central L.A. Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Dipson Amherst. Part of Buffalo Film Seminars.

“Twilight Zone: A 60th Anniversary Celebration.” This program features a new documentary short “Remembering Rod Serling” and six digitally restored episodes – “Walking Distance,” “Time Enough at Last,” “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “The Invaders,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “To Serve Man.” Time: 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Regal Elmwood and Transit.

Craig Sheffer calls for help but no one is there in “Widow’s Point.”

“Widow’s Point.” Locally made supernatural thriller features award-winning performance by Craig Sheffer as an author who plans a publicity stunt by staying locked in a haunted lighthouse overnight.  Times: 7 p.m. Nov. 1; 5 and 9 p.m. Nov. 2; and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 6, 8 and 9 at the Screening Room. Filmmaker Gregory Lamberson will be on hand for all showings and participate in a Q&A session.






October classic films, movie events in the Buffalo area

In October, the film schedule is full of treats for horror movie fans with  black and white classics, cult favorites and even horror films that make you laugh.

There’s also another multiday film festival and a pretty cool event with some very special guests.

The 14th Buffalo International Film Festival returns Oct. 10-14 in the North Park Theatre. This year’s festival spotlights some notable films that were made in Buffalo or have a local connection including “A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, “The True Adventure of Wolfboy” at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 12 and “Clover” at 9:45 p.m. Oct. 12. With films coming from around the world, there are too many to mention here, so check out the full schedule at buffalofilm.org.

If you know the abbreviation MST3K, you are in for a treat. The just announced “Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Cheesy Movie Circus Tour” with Joel Hodgson is coming to the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda at 8 p.m. Oct. 22. That’s right – Joel will be here along with Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy. Tickets are $38.50 to $43.50.  There are very cool VIP packages available, too. Here’s a link to the info. Continue reading “October classic films, movie events in the Buffalo area”

TCM unleashes ghosts, witches, curses and creatures in a feast of October horror films

Movies teach us lessons.

Like think twice before accepting an invitation to stay overnight in a mansion. Don’t visit an English village – especially in the 17th century. If an inheritance involves an old house or meeting relatives for the first time,  you might want to politely decline. And Dracula is never really dead.

Those are some of the recurring themes in the more than 70 horror films being aired in October by Turner Classic Movies.

TCM’s annual October scarefest returns with a night of themed horror movies every Thursday in October: “Betwitched” is the theme on Oct. 3, “Black Magic” on Oct. 10, “Ghost Stories” on Oct. 17, “The Undead” on Oct. 24 and “Horror Classics” on Oct. 31.

Friday nights are devoted to the TCM Monster of the Month, Godzilla (who brings along a few friends). You’ll find other horror films sprinkled throughout the schedule, too, with a horror marathon starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and concluding in royal fashion with “Dracula, Prince of Darkness” at 6:45 a.m. Nov. 1.

This is what we have to look forward to: at least 10 movies from Hammer Film Productions; 8 movies starring Christopher Lee; 6 films each that  feature Vincent Price and Peter Cushing; 4 with Karloff and 3 films directed by Roger Corman. Multiple movies carry the names of Barbara Shelley, Val Lewton, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson and American International Pictures (AIP), another favorite studio for horror fans.

Continue reading “TCM unleashes ghosts, witches, curses and creatures in a feast of October horror films”

In the moment: The unique way Jeff Rapsis creates music for silent films

Silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis doesn’t use sheet music when he sits at the keyboard as a movie plays in front of him. He doesn’t have the score memorized either. In fact, it’s not even created yet.

Every time the New Hampshire-based musician, composer and educator performs with a silent film, he improvises the music.

That unique style came from a serendipitous moment about 15 years ago, the first time he performed with a silent film, the 1925 Lon Chaney classic “Phantom of the Opera.”

“I thought I would have it all planned out,” Rapsis said. “But the night of the performance I had to go in and wing it to see how it would go. I saw pretty quickly it was quite preferable to be there with a film and play what was right at the time instead of planning in advance.”

Rapsis enjoyed it so much he wanted to do it again. Understanding the great skills of other musicians/composers doing similar work, he decided the way to achieve the same strong performance level would only happen if he played – a lot. Not practice, mind you, but performing in front of an audience. And that’s what he did.

“I had to do a lot of shows,” Rapsis said. “The only way to get to that level was to do it a lot and for real with a film playing and audience there. So that’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years.”

Jeff Rapsis

Like ‘peanut butter and chocolate’

Rapsis remembers when he first fell for silent movies. He was a 7th grader in a study hall monitored by his music teacher who, to calm down the “rowdy” teens, brought in his 16mm films from his own collection. They were mostly old comedies that starred the likes of Charlie Chaplin.

“It was the first time I ever saw anything like it. I was fascinated,” Rapsis said about the movies in a recent phone interview. “It was a whole different world. I developed an interest in that era of filmmaking.”

He continued to study and play piano even as his life took him into a journalism career. (Rapsis later became co-owner of the New Hampshire HippoPress and remains a teacher of communications at the University of New Hampshire). Fast forward to that night of “The Phantom of the Opera” screening when his joint passion for music and movies finally collided in a way Rapsis now compares to the tasty combination of chocolate and peanut butter. (“Once I put them together,” he said about music and movies, “there was no turning back.”)

Today he is a well-regarded musical accompanist and composer for silent movies, performing about 100 shows annually around his home base of Northern New England, as well as annual appearances at the Kansas Silent Film Festival and the Western New York Movie Expo in Buffalo, N.Y., in addition to performances in San Francisco, at the Library of Congress and even London.

“I’m not a touring artist,” he said. “It’s a special thing I love doing it and I’m happy to do it anywhere.”

“I sometimes joke it’s my therapy – but it’s not a joke,” Rapsis continued. “To accompany a silent film program, it’s like meditation. I lose myself – I forget about any problem.”

A link to movie history

Rapsis said the idea of collaborating on movies created 100 years ago or more by people now long dead is incredibly special to him. “You’re contributing and bringing it to life for audiences today. It is very satisfying using my creativity to bring the visions of people from long ago to life.”

“In some cases, you have to try very hard to understand what filmmakers wanted people to feel and go in that direction. In drama, there can be moments of comedy; likewise, in comedy there can be moments of drama.”

A challenge in accompanying silent movies is that movie music has changed dramatically in the past century. While today we think of film scores written usually by one composer or a movie soundtrack that is a collection of pop songs, in the silent era, the music that accompanied films not only varied from theater to theater, but city to city.

“It was up to local people to create the music for their audiences and that makes sense,” Rapsis explained. “Back then, there wasn’t a national culture – there was no internet, no TV. And music would sound different in different parts of the country. People in Boston would want different music than people in New Orleans.”

Today, he said, that approach doesn’t work.

“Now you expect the music to be cemented in place – can you imagine ‘Star Wars’ without John Williams? It’s part of the experience. Back then it was part of the creativity, live and local.”

Another difference in modern film music is the use of short musical “snippets” or a motif that may simply signify a character or emotion. Think about composer Marco Beltrami’s signature monster theme in “A Quiet Place” which is more of a terrifying sound than a song.

To illustrate the point, Rapsis likes to use the example of one of the most famous motifs in movie history – the shark theme in “Jaws.”

“In the film ‘Jaws,’ people are familiar with how John Williams was able to create this mood of impending terror with those low notes when the shark was going to attack. That’s not a melody, it’s not a popular tune. But it’s music that does a lot to create an overall experience for a movie,” Rapsis said. “In the 1920s they didn’t know how music could do that.”

Rapsis takes all of this into consideration when he composes.

“We’ve had 100 years of film scoring music. I use all of that vocabulary to make an older film come to life – not just what was heard in the 1920s, I use the whole box of crayons,” he said, adding there is an ongoing debate on if there is a right way to accompany a silent film.

For his own creativity, the right way is to improvise.

“I’m more interested in creating my own music, my own chord progressions that I use to bring a film to life. It’s my outlet for music I have within me in and that’s how it comes out in in the dark with a movie.”

“It’s actually quite exciting. It’s a test of your skill, like a final exam.”

When he prepares too much for an event, he said he can think too much about what he created previously, and it takes him out of the film.

“I found if I prepare less, I’m not being lazy, I’m setting myself up to be my best with the film. No sheet music, I have a bag of ideas I can draw from. If it sounds good or right, I’ll do more of it, if it doesn’t, I’ll stop.”

His passion for the silents comes from what they give us, the viewers, in return.

“Even though these films were made at the beginning of cinema, some have the most sophisticated visual sense. It had to be that way. They didn’t have dialogue. They go for the big emotions. Love with a capital L or joy or envy. It’s all in primary colors.

“Silent film stories allow us to commune with big emotions and remind us what we are capable of experiencing,” Rapsis continued. “Falling in love is a physical experience that really consumes you – if you could do that a few times in life, what more could you ask? So instead of falling in love, you can go to the movies.

“The silent film allows us to bring out these big emotions if you let the film in and let it do its work on you. That’s why people fell in love with movies.”

More on Jeff Rapsis

Jeff Rapsis keeps a running blog of his performances at silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com where you also can learn more about him and his upcoming performances.








September classic films and special events in the Buffalo area

The return of the Niagara Falls International Film Festival in September will be of special interest to classic movie fans.

The second NFIFF, which runs from Sept. 18 to 21, opens with a red carpet event on Sept. 18  in the Rapids Theatre (1711 Main St., Niagara Falls) and continues with screenings in the Regal Cinemas Hollywood 12 in Niagara Falls through the end of the festival.

Highlights include a celebration of the career of director Samuel Fuller with his wife and daughter – Christa and Samantha Fuller – in attendance. The event will show such Fuller classics as “The Naked Kiss” (1964), “Hell and High Water” (1954), “Shock Corridor” (1963) and “The Big Red One” (1980), which will be the closing night’s film. Samantha Fuller’s documentary about her father, “A Fuller Life,” will be screened as well.


NFIFF also includes a visit from Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr. who will attend with his film “The Reason,” as well as Xander Berkeley (“The Walking Dead,” “24”) and Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”), who will be on hand for Magdalena Zyzak’s “The Wall of Mexico.”

For the full list of films and more info, visit nfiff.com.

Related story: Family tragedy turns NFIFF into a film festival with a cause

The month’s schedule

Here’s a look at classic and repertory films, plus special movie events, in the Buffalo area throughout September.

Continue reading “September classic films and special events in the Buffalo area”