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Star of the Week: Charles Bronson May 14, 2008

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 9:45 pm

Charles Bronson


Charles Bronson (born Charles Dennis Buchinsky) was born on November 21, 1921 in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania.  He was one of fourteen children born to his poor Polish immigrant parents.  His father, a coal miner, died when Bronson was ten.  At 16, Bronson worked in the mines to help support his family.  This lead to a lifetime fear of enclosed spaces, brought terrifyingly to life in “The Great Escape” (1963).


Bronson served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, flying one 25 missions and receiving a Purple Heart.  Afterwards, he used the G.I. bill to study art.  He enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse and was recommended to director Henry Hathaway by one of his teachers.  Bronson made his film debut “You’re in the Navy Now” (1951).


At the suggestion of his agent, the actor changed his name from Buchinsky to Bronson.  This was at the height of the McCarthy “Red Scare” era, and the agent was afraid “Buchinsky” would scare studios away.  Legend has it that Bronson got his new last name from the “Bronson Gate” at Paramount Studios.


Though many of his early film roles were uncredited, he was noticed by audiences as Vincent Price’s evil assistant in “House of Wax” (1953).  He soon found himself cast in tough-guy action flicks.  Roger Corman cast him as the lead in the low budget “Machine-Gun Kelly” (1958 ) and Bronson starred in his own television series, “Man with a Camera” the same year.

The 1960s seemed to bring upon the on-screen persona that would follow him for the rest of his career.  His characters spoke little but made their mark through lots of action.  He was the gunslinger Bernardo O’Reilly in John Sturges’ blockbuster “The Magnificent Seven” (1960).  The director cast him again as POW Danny Velinski in another smash hit, “The Great Escape.”  Bronson joined another testosterone-packed cast for “The Dirty Dozen” (1967).


European audiences were great fans of his minimalist acting style, and he spent time over there starring in several films.  One of the best is the Sergio Leone masterpiece “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968).  Leone later said that Bronson was one of the best actors he had ever worked with.


Bronson returned to American filmmaking in the 1970s, when he was cast in his best-know role.  Written with Henry Fonda in mind, “Death Wish” (1974) was a controversial hit.  The actor played Paul Kersey, a man avenging the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter, vigilante-style.  The film spawned four sequels over the next 20 years.


Later films include “Hard Times” (1975) with James Coburn and “Indian Runner” (1991), directed by Sean Penn.  His final role was as Police Commissioner Paul Fein in the television movies “Family of Cops (1995-1999).  Much of his work wasn’t loved by critics, but he remained unfazed: “We don’t make movies for critics, since they don’t pay to see them anyhow.”


Throughout his career he also appeared in several advertisements for items such as GE Batteries (1957), Japan’s Mandom cologne (1970s), and in print ads for the Motorcycle Industry Council promoting safety and responsible riding (1987).

Bronson was married three times.  He appeared onscreen a handful of times with his second wife, actress Jill Ireland.  He was introduced to her by her then-husband David McCallum during the filming of “The Great Escape.”  Bronson and McCallum acted alongside one another in the film.


Though he was known the world over as a hero, he was never thought of as a handsome man.  He himself described himself as looking “like a rock quarry that someone has dynamite.”  The man who looked like “a Clark Gable who had been left out in the sun too long” died of complications brought on by pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease on August 23, 2003, just a few months short of his 82nd birthday.


Below are my top five picks of Bronson’s work.


Once Upon a Time in the West

“Once Upon a Time in the West”: Known in Italy as “C’era una volta il West,” this is the epic story of a mysterious stranger with a harmonica (Bronson) who joins with a desperado (Jason Robards) to watch over a beautiful widow (Claudia Cardinale) and protect her from an assassin (Henry Fonda).  I could go on and on about this film.  Everything is fabulous – the cinematography, the haunting music, the acting.  Cardinale could not be more beautiful, Fonda is cast deliciously against type, and Bronson and Robards are compelling anti-heroes.  Despite the brutality of much of the film, it is also quite romantic.  The tagline sets it all up: “There were three men in her life.  One to take her…one to love her…and one to kill her.”


The Great Escape 

“The Great Escape”: One of the great war movies of all time, this is the story of a real-life escape attempt from a German prisoner-of-war camp.  There is lot of action and all-star cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, et al.  The film alternates between thrilling, heartbreaking and patriotic, and sometimes is all three.


The Dirty Dozen 

“The Dirty Dozen”: The ultimate man’s movie, but exciting for anyone who tunes in.  A U.S. Army major (Lee Marvin) is assigned a thankless task.  He must rain and lead a dozen convicted murderers into an assassination mission during World War II.  This is another Who’s Who of tough guys – Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, Telly Savalas.  Savalas is no Kojak in this one – he is so frightening, it’s almost reason enough for a rental.


The Magnificent Seven 

“The Magnificent Seven”: In a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (1954), a Mexican village hires seven gunmen to protect them from the evil Calvera (Eli Wallach).  Bronson again joins forces with Steve McQueen and James Coburn, and is lead by Yul Brynner.  Lots and lots of fun.  This is another of Bronson’s sensitive tough guy roles, and he excels at it.


Death Wish 

“Death Wish”: This is Bronson’s most famous role.  The rape sequence is one of the most brutal and horrifying scenes I’ve ever experience on film.  (And on a weird note, a young Jeff Goldblum plays one of the thugs).  Bronson is sympathetic and proud, and Vincent Gardenia is believable as the police officer hunting him.



A Sunday at the Egyptian

Filed under: Film Reviews — meganclose @ 8:19 pm

It is a moody, damp Sunday morning, yet another day of what I’ve been told is May Grey and June Gloom.  I walk through Hollywood, amazed as usual by the mixture of bedraggled homeless people and preppy Gen-Xers walking their dogs. 


I am going on a behind the scenes tour of my new favorite theatre, the Egyptian.  I wait in the main auditorium with five or so other people.  They reminisce quietly with one another about going to movies in the old days with five cents for candy.  They complain about the new days of overpriced concession stand items and violent slasher films.  I am decades younger than even the most youthful of attendees here, but I find myself nodding along.


I look up at the grand and awe-inspiring ceiling.  A giant relief sunburst against a teal blue sky covers most of it.  Red, green and blue keep the gold from being too glitzy, and a giant winged scarab sits below it.  Having always loved the mystery and splendor of ancient Egypt, I can’t get enough of it.  Even if your tastes fall elsewhere, you can’t help but gasp.


We meet our tour guide, Mark Simon.  He is a volunteer docent for American Cinematheque, the organization that owns and operates the Egyptian and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.  As we walk through the theatre, he gives us an abridged (and yet in depth) history of the theatre.


The Egyptian was built in 1922 (replacing the lemon grove that grew there), right when the film industry really started picking up speed.  In 1921, Nickelodeon theatres made 91 million dollars – that’s a lot of nickels.  Eighty-four percent of international film production took place in Los Angeles at the time, though mostly downtown.

This was Hollywood’s first movie palace, and took 18 months to build.


The Egyptian opened on October 22, 1922 with the premiere of “Robin Hood,” and soon became the prestige theatre.  Irving Thalberg took Norma Shearer to the opening of “The Gold Rush” on their first date.  “Don Juan” launched its run here, and was the premiere of sound in all of California.  Howard Hughes demanded that Grauman produce the premiere of his film “Hell’s Angels,” which was the largest premiere to date.  Fans and attendees numbered up to 250,000, and was the inspiration for the final scene in Nathanael West’s Day of the Locusts.


Sid Grauman, visionary and showman extraordinaire, is the man behind the magic (thought Raymond Kennedy was the architect).  He had originally made his money in San Francisco, but was lured to Los Angeles.  He built the Million Dollar Theatre (still standing downtown) in 1918.  He also built the Metropolitan at the same time as the Egyptian, which is still the largest theatre in California to date.  It sits 2000 people.  He also went on to open the Chinese Theatre down the road (a Kennedy design as well).  As our guide said, the Chinese was the theatre for “quantity” (films being shown) and the Egyptian was known for the “prestige.” 

The most hands on of bosses, Grauman ran the Egyptian for five years and only showed blockbusters.  He made sure that the silent films were accompanied by a 25-30 piece orchestra.  He was the national spokesperson for Wurlitzer organs, and had one in the Egyptian   He was a pioneer in the use of klieg lights, using them to draw attention to the premiere events.  Props from films filled the courtyard, and he hired extras from the films to appear in costume and often perform in opening pageants (staged by Grauman himself).


Mike Todd later bought the theatre, but sold it to United Artists.  UA owned it for several years, but ended up selling it to the Community Reorganization group, who held on to it for several years, not having the funds to do much with it.  With the Northridge Earthquake of 1994, the rush to restore it began.  Homeless people had been squatting in the building and there was significant water damage.  Community Reorganization sold it to the American Cinematheque for a single dollar, with the promise that the group would begin preservation efforts.


The firm of Hodgetts & Fung designed the project – “a preservation of surfaces.”  While there was significant restoration, they focused on updating the theatre for the modern day while keeping as much of the structure and design as it once was.  The sound system can be seen a few feet in front of the walls, in an effort to preserve them.  The sunburst relief is the complete original, though the years of tar from cigarettes had to be cleaned away.  The planters in the courtyard are new.  The storefronts (which sold Egyptian tchotchkes for a mere two years) remain.  Some of the original tile in the outside walls still remains, as does the fountain (though it no longer works).  One of the lamps is also original, though, in a funny turn of events, no one knows which one.  The Foundry apparently did such a good job restoring one and creating new ones, that we will probably never know which light is authentic.


Our guide described the theatre as “basically a big movie set.”  There are false doors and stairs that lead to nowhere.  A Bedouin guard would pace the roof announcing show times.  The hieroglyphics mean nothing, but feature characters like Tutmoses being guided by the gods.  My personal favorite is the border above the concession stand – it looks like the pharaohs ware watching movies, but they are really watching dancers and listening to music being performed.  Many people think the choice of design was due to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb that very year – however, Howard Carter’s great discovery happened five weeks after the theatre opened.


Behind the scenes, we got to see some original furniture from the ladies’ room, and a mold that had been used for some of the decorative elements.  I was allowed to stand in the singer’s box, where a performer would sing above the audience as they took their seats.  We met with Paul Rayton, one of the projectionists.  His technical knowledge of film is astounding, and you’ll be missing out if you don’t talk to him one of these days.


As our guide speaks about the downfall of Hollywood and the theatres in the area, I wonder if it is divine coincidence that I moved to this town just as it began to get cleaned up again.  I’ve been on quite the screenings kick, going to any old movies that I can.  To be able to see them in the authentic theatres is thrilling.  The Egyptian, which seats 250 people today, has allowed me to experience early film noir and David Lean epics better than ever before.  For a taste of old Hollywood, check the theatre out – and definitely go on the tour some morning.  Even if you’re not crazy about anything pre-1990, you will find yourself feeling like a part of a time gone by.


The tour, which is followed by a screening of Forever Hollywood, is $10.  For more information, and to purchase tickets in advance, visit the American Cinematheque at



Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 3:02 pm

Sadly, I will be unable to make Josh’s concert this Saturday, 8/25 @ 8:00pm.  I have two tickets for sale.  $100 for both, $50 each.  Please email me at if you are interested in purchasing them and I can give you more details/we can work out the exchange.  You can pay in person or via PayPal (preferred).


YIKES! New California Driving Laws June 21, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 11:23 am

 From an email I received at work…

1. Carpool lane – 1st time $1068.50 starting 7/1/07 (The $271 posted
on the highway is old). Don’t do it again because 2nd time is going to be
double. 3rd time triple, and 4th time license suspended.

2. Incorrect lane change – $380. Don’t cross the lane on solid lines or intersections.

3. Block intersection – $485

4. Driving on the shoulder – $450

5. Cell phone use in the construction zone. – Double fine as of 07/01/07.
Cell phone use must be “hands free” while driving.

6. Passengers over 18 not in their seatbelts – both passengers and drivers get tickets.

7. Speeders can only drive 3 miles above the limit.

8. DUI = JAIL (Stays on your driving record for 10 years!)

9.  As of 07/01/07 cell phone use must be “hands free” while driving.
Ticket is $285. They will be looking for this like crazy – easy money for police department.


“Ten Commandments” for the Road — Seriously?

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 10:56 am

Apparently the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers went Vatican and issued “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” a “Ten Commandments” for driving.  It was also suggested that the driver does the sign of the cross and says a rosary before turning on the ignition (you can tell they’ve driven in Los Angeles).  I guess these can serve as calming mantras next time I’m on the 405.

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

(List courtesy of the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press.)


AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 10:28 am

I absolutely LIVE for these specials from AFI.  For the 10th anniversary of the list, the American Film  Institute sent out ballots to its members to do a new vote.  Some new films were added to the list, some were taken off, some films moved up or down, and some stayed in the same spot.

 So, if you missed it, here is the 2007 Top 100 Movies List from AFI:

1) Citizen Kane (same spot)

2) The Godfather (+1)

3) Casablanca (-1)

4) Raging Bull (+20)

5) Singin’ In the Rain (+5)

6) Gone With the Wind (-2)

7) Lawrence of Arabia (-2)

8 ) Schindler’s List (+1)

9) Vertigo (+52!!!)

10) The Wizard of Oz (-4)

11) City Lights (+65!!!)

12) The Searchers (+84!!!!!!!!)

13) Star Wars (+2)

14) Psycho (+4)

15) 2001: A Space Odyssey (+7)

16) Sunset Blvd. (-4)

17) The Graduate (-10)

18 ) The General (new to list)

19) On the Waterfront (-11)

20) It’s a Wonderful Life (-9)

21) Chinatown (-2)

22) Some Like It Hot (-8 )

23) The Grapes of Wrath (-2)

24) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (+1)

25) To Kill a Mockingbird (+9)

26) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (+3)

27) High Noon (+6)

28 ) All About Eve (-12)

29) Double Indemnity (+9)

30) Apocalypse Now (-2)

31) The Maltese Falcon (-8 )

32) The Godfather Part II (same spot)

33) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (-13)

34) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (+15)

35) Annie Hall (-4)

36) The Bridge On the River Kwai (-23!!!!!!)

37) The Best Years of Our Lives (same spot)

38 ) The Treasure of Sierra Madre (-8 )

39) Dr. Strangelove (-13)

40) The Sound of Music (+15)

41) King Kong (+2)

42) Bonnie and Clyde (-15)

43) Midnight Cowboy (-7)

44) The Philadelphia Story (+7)

45) Shane (+24)

46) It Happened One Night (-11)

47) A Streetcar Named Desire (-2)

48 ) Rear Window (-6)

49) Intolerance (new to list)

50) Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (new to list)

51) West Side Story (-10)

52) Taxi Driver (-5)

53) The Deer Hunter (+26)

54) M*A*S*H (+2)

55) North By Northwest (-15)

56) Jaws (-8 )

57) Rocky (+21)

58 ) The Gold Rush (+16)

59) Nashville (new to list)

60) Duck Soup (+25)

61) Sullivan’s Travels (new to list)

62) American Graffiti (+15)

63) Cabaret (new to list)

64) Network (+2)

65) The African Queen (-48  )

66) Raiders of the Lost Ark (-6)

67) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (new to list)

68 ) Unforgiven (+30)

69) Tootsie (-7)

70) A Clockwork Orange (-24)

71) Saving Private Ryan (new to list)

72) The Shawshank Redemption (new to list)

73) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (-23)

74) The Silence of the Lambs (-9)

75) In the Heat of the Night (new to list)

76) Forrest Gump (-5)

77) All the President’s Men (new to list)

78 ) Modern Times (+3)

79) The Wild Bunch (+1)

80) The Apartment (+13)

81) Spartacus (new to list)

82) Sunrise (new to list)

83) Titanic (new to list)

84) Easy Rider (+4)

85) A Night at the Opera (new to list)

86) Platoon (-3)

87) 12 Angry Men (new to list)

88 ) Bringing Up Baby (+9)

89) The Sixth Sense (new to list)

90)  Swing Time (new to list)

91) Sophie’s Choice (new to list)

92) Goodfellas (+2)

93) The French Connection (-23)

94) Pulp Fiction (+1)

95) The Last Picture Show (new to list)

96) Do the Right Thing (new to list)

97) Blade Runner (new to list)

98 ) Yankee Doodle Dandy (+2)

99) Toy Story (new to list)

100) Ben-Hur (-28 )

I have personally seen 88 of the 100.

Other fascinating facts:

-Steven Spielberg is the most represented director with five films.

-Robert DeNiro and James Stewart tie as the most represented actors (five films each).

-Faye Dunaway and Diane Keaton are the most represented actresses (three films each).

-The 1970s are the most represented decade with 1/5 of the entries (20 films).

-1982, 1976 and 1969 are the most popular years represented on the list (four films each).

-There are four silents, two animated and six musicals.

-There are 23 films that were dropped from the list (sniff): Dr. Zhivago, The Birth of a Nation, From Here to Eternity, Amadeus, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Third Man, Fantasia, Rebel Without a Cause, Stagecoach, Close Encounters of the Third King, The Manchurian Candidate, An American in Paris, Wuthering Heights, Dances with Wolves, Giant, Fargo, Mutiny on the Bounty, Frankenstein, Patton, The Jazz Singer, My Fair Lady, A Place in the Sun and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

 All of this information is courtesy of the AFI (


A “Perfect Day” of Los Angeles Hiking

Filed under: Uncategorized — meganclose @ 9:42 am

    As posted on…

   One of the best things about Los Angeles is that among the

  skyscrapers and shopping malls and apartment buildings, there are

  beautiful areas of nature, just ready for exploring.  And what better way

  to do this than a hike?  There are a plethora of options, but I’ve made a

  day out of two of my favorites, as discussed below.

    Start your day off the right way with Runyon Canyon.  I suggest you

  enter at the gate on Vista – you’ll have a steep incline, but the hike

  down will be a lot easier.  Hike up .7 miles or so and check out a killer

  view of the Los Angeles skyline.  On a clear day you can see from

  downtown to Santa Monica, including a killer view of the Hollywood sign.

    You can either go a bit farther, doing the entire loop, or head down the

  other side.  You’ll go down a flight of makeshift stairs, but be careful

  doing so.  It’s easy to slip, even with the railing nearby.  You will be at

  Inspiration Point, which provides another great view of the city.  Follow

  the trail back down (about 2.5 miles total) and you’ll end up right where

  you started from.

    Just a note: Runyon Canyon is a dog park, so if dogs make you

  nervous, perhaps this isn’t the best option for you.  There are areas

  where the pets have to be on leashes, but there are areas where they

  can be off, too.  Most dogs are extremely friendly (and their owners,

  too), so there is really nothing to worry about, but just a heads up.

    After you’re done with Runyon Canyon, stop by a grocery store and pick

  up some food for a picnic.  A great nearby option is Bristol Farms, which

  has delicious ready-made foods like sandwiches and pasta salad.  There

  is also a Ralph’s in the vicinity as well.

    You can take Sunset Boulevard west to Will Rogers State Park.  This is

  the former family ranch and estate of the late cowboy humorist.  Have

  your picnic in the area by the polo fields.  If you’re at the park on a

  Saturday, it’s more than likely you can watch a match on the fields once

  gallivanted upon by Walt Disney, Gary Cooper and Rogers himself.

    After your lunch take the Inspiration Point trail (Los Angeles is quite

  inspiring), the most popular hike in the park, a three mile loop.  This

  also has a fabulous payoff view of the Pacific Coast and Westside of Los


    After the two hikes, you will more than likely be exhausted and will be

  relieved to return to your hotel room/studio apartment/Malibu mansion. 

  But if you’re feeling inspired, head over to a Barnes & Noble and pick up

  either Day Hikes Around Los Angeles (by Robert Stone) or Hollywood

  Escapes (by Harry Medved and Bruce Akiyama).  Both are excellent

  resources for outdoor excursion ideas and can help you plan more

  perfect hiking days of your own.