Movie Review: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Title: I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Release Date: April 21, 1978
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: Universal Pictures

Robert Zemeckis’ first feature film is a lot like his later works Back to the Future and Forrest Gump in its focus on the cultural touchstones of the Baby Boom generation.  In this case all the action happens on one day in New York City as fans gather to welcome The Beatles for their first performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s interesting that the events that took place 13-14 years before the movie was made already feel like “a long time ago.” The movie feels very influenced by American Graffiti with a lot of the madcap antics of 70s comedies like The Blues Brothers or 1941 (a movie that included a lot of the same cast members).  The antics don’t really work for me, but the overall themes and character development are actually pretty good.

The story focuses on a group of teenagers who drive into the city from New Jersey.  The key characters are Grace (Theresa Saldana) who wants to take photos of the band, Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) who is obsessed with Paul, and Pam (Nancy Allen) who reluctantly comes along for the ride even though she’s planning to elope with her boyfriend. Also along for the ride are Larry (Marc McClure), who agrees to drive a limo from his family’s funeral home because he has a crush on grace, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a folk music fan who plans to protest the Beatles, and Tony (Bobby Di Cicco) who also hates the Beatles and unfortunately expresses this through homophobic and xenophobic comments.  In the city, Rosie befriends Richard (Eddie Deezen), a nerdy teen who obsessively collects Beatles paraphernalia, while Janis teams up with Peter (Christian Juttner), a younger boy whose father will give him tickets to the performance but only if he gets a haircut. Iconic NYC radio disc jockey Murray the K appears as himself and his narration provides a thread among the stories (much like Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti).

The movie is hit or miss, but I think the whole is better than the sum of its parts.  The scene where Pam basically has a sexual awakening by being along in the Beatles’ hotel suite is well done, and the scene where Peter is forced into a barber’s chair is truly frightening.  There’s a lot of slapstick involving cops getting injured as they fail to catch determined teenagers.  The soundtrack is entirely made up of Beatles songs of the period which must’ve been expensive to license.  There’s also archival footage of the Beatles and body doubles who are never seen in full and have atrociously bad accents.  I was surprised to learn that none of this movie was filmed on location because it really does capture the feel of New York City.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Little Fugitive (1953)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Little Fugitive
Release Date: October 6, 1953
Director:  Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin
Production Company: Little Fugitive Production Company


Joey (Richie Andrusco) is a 7-year-old growing up in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn who likes Westerns and loves horses.  When his widowed mother has to go away to care for his grandmother, he’s left in the care of his older brother, Lennie (Richard Brewster).  Lennie’s friends don’t like having little Joey tagging along.  So the play a prank that makes Joey think he’s killed Lennie.  Then Joey runs away to Coney Island and pretty much has the best day of his life.

The plot is minimal, but this movie delights on it’s naturalistic, largely unscripted performances by non-professional child actors.  Morris Engel developed a special camera that could be strapped to the body allowing the directors to film on location amid crowds of daytripping New Yorkers. It’s also a great document of Coney Island in the 1950s, when the parachute jump still worked and before Fred Trump demolished many of the amusements for real estate development.

It’s a form of neorealism that feels lighter and funnier than the movements in Italy and France and makes me wish a larger American neorealist movement grew out of it.  But François Truffaut loved Little Fugitives and said it inspired The 400 Blows! But really the most mindblowing thing about this movie is that my father was a 7-year-old in a working class neighborhood in 1953.  I wish he were around so I could watch this movie with him and ask him if he recognizes anyone.

Rating: ****1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Shadows (1959)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Shadows
Release Date: November 11, 1959
Director: John Cassavetes
Production Company:  British Lion

I’ve never watched a John Cassavetes movie before so I suppose it is suitable to start with his directorial debut.  This movie is credited for kickstarting independent cinema in the United States and is certainly more frank about race relations and sex than one would expect of a Hollywood film of the time.  The movie is about three African American siblings – Lelia Goldoni (Lelia), Hugh (Hugh Hurd), and Ben (Ben Carruthers) – although Lelia and Ben are light-skinned and can pass for white. The movie takes a natural/realistic approach and claims to have been improvised although in reality the cast did work from a script.

Lelia is an aspiring writer who has relationships with three different men over the course of the movie.  Significant to the plot is her relationship with Tony (Anthony Ray) who reacts negatively when she meets Hugh and learns that Lelia is Black.  Hugh is a jazz singer who has trouble finding gigs because his style is old-fashioned.  Ben is a trumpeter but spends most of his time hanging out in bars with his friends rather than looking for work.

I thought this was an interesting look at the gritty world of New York City nightlife and the daily lives of ordinary young people of the time.  The location footage of 1950s New York is great and amusing Cassavetes shot it all without getting permits.  The hip jazz soundtrack also works really well with film. Goldoni really shines in her performance and she reminds of the type of New York character I’ve met in my time.

Rating: ***1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: News From Home

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: News From Home
Release Date: 8 June 1977
Director: Chantal Akerman
Production Company: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) | Paradise Films | Unité Trois | Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF)

Before creating Sight and Sounds 2022 “Greatest Film of All Time” Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman lived in New York City from 1971-1973 self-reportedly as a “vagabond.” In 1976, Akerman returned to New York to shoot the footage for this film primarily in areas she’d spent time in on her earlier sojourn such as Hell’s Kitchen, the Meatpacking District, and the neighborhood now known as Tribeca, as well as on the subway and Staten Island Ferry.  Much like New York 1911, the film serves as a time capsule of the city.

What sets this film apart is that the narration, read by Akerman, is entirely made up of letters her beloved mother Natalia sent her from 1971 to 1973.  The letters show that motherhood is universal as they grow increasingly anxious.  They’re also the only insight we have into Akerman’s character as she does not speak for herself.

The camera remains static for much of the film, I think there are 2 or 3 pans the entire movie, as it captures long takes of various parts of the city. The fun part for me was trying to recognize the places in the film, many of which have changed dramatically in the past 50 years. It was also interesting to watch the people in the movie, most of whom don’t seem to notice that there’s a camera filming them.  I wondered if I might see anyone I know.  Would I spot my father going to work? (I did not).

I wonder if I would’ve enjoyed this movie as much if Akerman filmed it in a city that I had no connection with, such as her native Brussels.  All the same, for such a simple concept, I found this movie surprisingly affecting.


50 Years, 50 Movies (2015): Carol

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.  If you have any suggestions for movies from the past 50 years, please drop them in the comments!


Top Grossing Movies in 2015:

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners in 2015:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 2015:

World of Tomorrow

Title: Carol
Release Date: November 20, 2015
Director: Todd Haynes
Production Company: Number 9 Films | Film4 Productions | Killer Films

Therese (Rooney Mara) is working as a clerk at New York City department store during the holiday season of 1952 who is drawn to a glamorous customer, Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is shopping for a gift for her daughter. They make a connection which eventually leads to a romantic relationship.  Carol is divorcing her husband Herge (Kyle Chandler) and they are fighting for custody of their daughter.  Herge uses Carol’s earlier lesbian relationship with her friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) and her relationship with Therese to invoke a “morality cause” to gain full custody.

The movie features strong, nuanced performances by Blanchett and Mara.  It’s also gorgeously filmed with some memorable shots.  It kind of feels like Edward Hopper paintings come to life.  The movie also owes a debt to David Lean’s Brief Encounter.  The Christmas theme is tied into the film’s color palette and surely the name Carol is kind of a pun?   The examination of homosexuality in the repressive 1950s is well done, and I found it fascinating that the movie is a faithful adaptation of a book published in 1952, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: Downtown ’81 (2000)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Downtown ’81
Release Date: October 5, 2000
Director: Edo Bertoglio
Production Company: New York Beat Films

Part film noir, part beat poetry, and part music video, Downtown ’81 explores a day in the life of Manhattan’s art and club scene through the eyes of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.  After being evicted, Jean meets various real life musicians, artists, and graffiti writers in his perambulations around the Lower East Side.

He does not meet any movie actors and the amateurish performances stand out.  But this movie is more about vibes than anything else and towards the end live performances by various artists such as Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, The Plastics, and Walter Steding & The Dragon People.  Notable people in the cast include David McDermott, Lee Quiñones,  Fab Five Freddy, and a wonderful bit with Debbie Harry.  It’s a fun glimpse at the very weird New York City scene of the early 80s.

Rating: ***


90 Movies in 90 Days: Style Wars (1983)

I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Style Wars
Release Date: 1983
Director: Tony Silver
Production Company: Public Art Films

A lot of trains, a lot of fun, a lot of art. Art that’s gonna be part of New York City’s history forever. – Iz the Wiz

In the 1970s, the graffiti-covered subway train became a symbol of the “decline of New York City.”  For the young people of the city, though, graffiti writing served as a form of expression in a growing culture that also created rap music and breakdancing.  This documentary made for PBS television has kind of naive and square outsiders feel to it, but it works because the director allows the subjects of the film to do most of the talking. There’s a lot of candid discussion of their methods, their artistry, as well as the beefs among artists (especially the villainous “Cap”).

In addition to graffiti writers talking about their art, other perspectives are offered from MTA employees, police officers, commuters, and Mayor Ed Koch. They all hate the graffiti and what it represents to the people of the City who don’t want to have their names on every line of the subway.  A highlight of the movie is a joint interview with graffiti writer Skeme and his mother, the latter of whom does not approve of her son’s art at all.  The film also documents the start of the decline of graffiti culture as high-end art studios start getting some writers to create works on canvas for sale.  Meanwhile, the MTA erects double fences with razor wire and guard dogs around the subway yards.

This is the New York City I remember visiting as a child and the cool kid culture I could only admire from afar in the suburbs.  It’s hard to believe that 40 years have gone by already, but the City has changed so much that this movie almost feels like it’s from a different world.

Rating: ****1/2

Holiday Movie Review: It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

Title: It Happened on 5th Avenue
Release Date: April 19, 1947
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Production Company: Roy Del Ruth Productions

It Happened on Fifth Avenue is a very Capra-esque comedy of class set in New York City just after World War II.  In fact, it was originally optioned for Frank Capra but he chose to direct It’s a Wonderful Life instead.  Each winter, the second-richest man in the world, Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), boards up his mansion on the Upper East Side and winters in Virginia.  The homeless Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) discovers a way into the mansion and squats in the residence while the O’Connors are away.

One day he makes acquaintance of a recently-evicted veteran, Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), and invites him to stay at the mansion since his apartment building had been demolished to make way for a skyscraper that O’Connor is building.  Soon Bullock brings some of his fellow veterans into the mansion with their wives and young children and they begin working on a plan to develop more permanent housing on an abandoned military base.

When O’Connor’s 18-year-old daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) leaves her finishing school and comes to the mansion, she decides to hide her identity and stay in the growing household. Trudy and Jim soon fall in love, and Trudy calls on her divorced parents, Mike and Mary (Ann Harding), to also move into their own mansion disguised as poor people so they can get to know Jim.  Hijinks ensue with a lot of gags involving McKeever ordering Mike around.

But there’s also a lot of sweetness in this movie as the found family really care for one another.  The central problem of the movie is based on the mostly forgotten post-war housing shortage. In real life the solution was to build housing projects in the cities and sprawling developments in the suburbs.  We’re still dealing with the increased inequality and environmental damage of those solutions so the film feels very relatable.  The political undertones as well as some sexual entendres make this movie feel more modern than 1947. I also like that Jim never actually finds out that Trudy is the O’Connor’s daughter onscreen which seems like a funny thing to leave unresolved.

The humor in this movie is hit or miss and the various subplots have a way of knocking into one another, so I can’t recommend it as a holiday classic.  On the other hand it is an enjoyable romp that is worth checking out.

Rating: ***

Holiday Movie Review: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Title: Miracle on 34th Street
Release Date: June 11, 1947
Director: George Seaton
Production Company: 20th Century Fox

Revisiting this holiday classic, I am impressed by how efficient it is.  In just over 90 minutes its full of iconic scenes that live on in the cultural memory but also has character-developing moments when the characters are given the space to just talk.  The cast is excellent with Maureen O’Hara starring as Doris Walker, a no-nonsense divorced mother of Susan (Natalie Wood), whose views on reality are challenged by Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), a genial man she hires to play Santa Claus at Macy’s department store, who may or may not be the actual Santa.  John Payne feels like a weak link as Fred Gailey shoehorned in the story as a romantic interest for Doris, but I do like Alvin Greenman as Alfred, a young Macy’s janitor who befriends Kris.

I suppose someone could write entire essays on the depiction of gender in this movie.  I find it interesting that the two lead men are nurturing and imaginative, while the woman is logical.  Also, for 1947, it feels unusual to see a single mother working in an important managerial position in a Hollywood movie.  On the downside, the fact that Kris and Fred decide that they need to “fix” Doris and Susan comes off a bit icky.

The movie is filled with memorable scenes.  I love that they did location shooting on Thanksgiving to capture one-take scenes during the actual parade.  Kris singing with the Dutch orphan, Fred calling the District Attorney’s son to testify, and of course, the moment when the postal workers dump thousands of letters to Santa on the judge’s desk! This definitely remains a movie worth watching every holiday season.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Books about the 1964-1964 New York World’s Fair

Author: Bill Cotter and Bill Young 
Title: The 1964-1964 New York World’s Fair
Publication Info: Arcadia Publishing (2004)
Rating: ***

Author: Bill Cotter and Bill Young
Title1964-1965 New York World’s Fair: Creation and Legacy
Publication Info: Arcadia Publishing Library Editions (2008)
Rating: ***


I’ve long had a fascination with the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair because it intersects with several of my interests: New York City history, space age modernism, Disney theme parks, the New York Mets, and one of my most-loathed historical figures, Robert Moses.* I also know the stories from my parents and grandparents attending the fair.  These Images of America volumes contain photographs and historical tidbits from two authors who visited the fair when they were young and kept its memory alive every since.

The first volume details the fair itself.  Did you know that it was a renegade world’s fair, failing to get authorization from the International Bureau of Expositions?As a result there were only a limited number of foreign countries participating, and many of their pavilions were operated by big corporations rather than national governments.  Most of the pavilions were showcases for states, big corporations, and nonprofit organizations. Taking place in the midst of the race to the moon, many exhibits were themed to the futuristic wonders of the space age as well as the hope for peace in a smaller world. The centerpiece of the fair was the Unisphere, a surviving landmark, erected by United States Steel Corporation complete with light and water displays.

The fair also became a showcase for Walt Disney and company who brought Disneyland-style attractions to the East Coast at four pavilions.  These include the Magic Skyway at the Ford Pavilion, an animatronic Abraham Lincoln for the Illinois pavilion, General Electric’s Carousel of Progress, and It’s a Small World, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola for UNICEF.  Disney, however, did not provide all the fair’s thrill.  Visitor’s to the Kodak pavilion could walk along the Moon Deck, the Electric Companies Tower of Light contained dazzling display of lights, and visitors could ride through a history of communication at the Bell Pavilion.  While only a portion of foreign nations were represented, guests could tour a recreated Belgian village (and enjoy Belgian waffles) and several newly independent African nations made their global debut.

While fair attendees generally had a good time and it lives on fondly in their memories, the fair was not a success.  The fair went bankrupt, few of the predictions for the future came true, and buildings left behind to be adapted for the new park fell into disrepair (most notably the New York State Pavilion, famed for its appearance in Men in Black, which still stands in a derelict state).  Despite only operating for two seasons, the fair required a monumental effort.  The second volume details a lot of the planning and preparation that went into designing and planning the fair.  This includes plans for pavilions that were never completed as well as fair attractions that closed before the fair was over.  Some were replaced and some stood empty behind fences for the remainder of the fair!  There’s also a lot of detail of the demolition of the fair (a process not completed until 1967) and the fair’s legacy.

Together these two books are richly illustrated and give a glimpse of an ephemeral world of fun, science, and “Peace Through Understanding” that stood for a short time in Queens, New York.


*I’d like to give Moses credit for the noble vision of a great fair leading into the creation of a “Central Park for the 20th Century” at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.  However, his main legacy is crisscrossing New York with highways, including the ones that surround Flushing Meadows-Corona Park which I believe have prevented the park from achieving its full potential.

Recommended Books: