Friday, February 01, 2008


A recently retired film critic whose reviews graced the pages of The Philadelphai Inquirer, The Sacramento Bee, and occasionally The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, you can now find Joe Baltake's film notes at The Passionate Moviegoer. When Joe describes his blog as 'devoted to the neglected, the overlooked and the forgotten,' he means it. As a critic with a vault of film knowledge, Baltake highlights forgotten fare such as September 30, 1955 and Happy Birthday, Wanda June. A regular feature on The Passionate Moviegoer is a rundown of the next month's TCM schedule, with Joe critiquing the programming and offering his picks for the month's best. Speaking of TCM, Joe has had the privelege of talking shop with none other than Robert Osbourne. If the reviews on his blog aren't enough for you, there's 2,060 of them at Rotten Tomatoes, dating back to 1994.

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'John Belushi impersonating a projectile zit in Animal House.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN -- AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?: 'I've avoided Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons because I'm afraid that I would be preoccupied with what's missing from the film - the studio-sanctioned cuts that Robert Wise had to make. I sense that the film would seem, well, amputated to me. I'd like to take the liberty here, Adam, to extend this question and mention a classic film that I don't like: Casablanca. I know that sounds like blasphemy. However, I've tried watching it at least 25 times and just can't get into it. My attention span goes zip during it. It may have something to do with my resistance to Bogart as both an actor and a personality. More blasphemy, right? But it's true. I just don't like it.'

TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES RECENTLY WRAPPED UP A MONTH OF GUEST PROGRAMMING, IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU PICK TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME?: 'Billy Wilder's The Apartment, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Mervyn LeRoy's Gypsy (a criminally underrated film) - obviously, I am a child of the '60s.'

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'I'm seriously dating myself here: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Monroe. I fell in love with her, with movies in general and with musicals in particular.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.'

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'I grew up in New Jersey, home of the first drive-ins, so I spent a lot of time at them. As a movie buff, I always thought they were the perfect venue for fellow buffs to see and discuss new films (while they unreel) without disturbing anyone. I haven't been to one in years, but I have a vivid recollection going to one (in Jersey again) that was showing a Hitchcock festival. I took a battery-powered tape recorder to record the dialogue from Marnie. (Still have it, despite the advent of home video and DVDs.) I'd guess that that was about 20 years ago.'

FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'Comedy-drama, hands-down. Something like Wilder's The Apartment or Ashby's The Landlord, movies anchored in realism but driven by their respective sense of humor.'

Death Wish:
Withnail & I: 'Bruce Robinson's witty, hugely companionable fable of two actor-buddies weathering a vacation as the 1960s come to an end, the decade as frazzled and as unhinged as the filmmaker's two protagonists. The film has the initmacy of autobiography (Robinson started his career as an actor), a quality that's handily subverted by Richard E. Grant's shameless, wildly entertaining breakthrough performance as Withnail.'
Sleeping Beauty:

GENRE OR ERA YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'I love the films from the 1960s and especially miss the breezy, star-driven films that Doris Day and Frank Sinatra made. However, I am really obsessed with the film musical because the genre as been so cruely abandoned by moviegoers and because it makes male moviegoers so uptight. Since when is it a negtive comment on a man's sexuality if he goes to and likes film musicals? My dad loved them. He loved all movies. He had no problem with the idea of going to see Gigi and, believe me, he was all-man. (My wife has the same memories of her father.) The film musical must be rescued! It must be saved, I say.'

LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE ABOUT FILM: 'I disagree with people on film all the time, that's why most people avoid me. Actually, it was just yesterday. A critic mentioned the new film Juno, which he loved. I disagreed. I like the film. I think it's very well done, well-acted and funny, but I also think it's become wildly overrated since playing the festival circuit. In general, I have a problem with modern criticism because everything is either great or lousy. There's no gray area anymore. I think there's a problem with hastily-thought-out reviews because of the relentless crush of films that come charging at reviewers today. There's just no time to savor a film anymore. Critics are too busy cranking out reviews.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Just one, Adam? Jeez, then I would have to go with David Thomson's "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film." (But, if you'll indulge me, I have to add Dwight MacDonald's "On Movies," Francois Truffaut's "The Films in My Life," Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Movie Wars," Cameron Crowe's "Conversations with Wilder," Julia Phillips' "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again," all of the Pauline Kael review anthologies, and finally Damien Bona's "Inside Oscar 2," because I am quoted so profusely in it!)'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM VIEWINGS: 'the agencies in Philaldelphia have kept me on their screening lists, so I get to about four or five critics' screenings a week, plus there are those occasions when I take my wife to something on the weekend. In a good week, I can see as many as six new films.'

THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM MOVIES: 'Provocative question. (1) First and foremost, I think I've learned tolerance from watching movies compulsively - tolereance and empathy. I never understood how someone who views a lot of films, especially films from different countries and cultures can be bigoted or prejudiced. Exposing oneself to a wide variety of movies should broaden one's view of things and open the mind to new, even alien ideas. (2) Secondly, sophistication. Watching a lot of films has given me a more sophisticated taste in films than I would otherwise have. As a professional critic, I was always put off by readers who would dismiss movie critics as "snobs" when quite the opposite is true. Critics sit through anything and everything, and usually with great enthusiasm. It's the average moviegoer who is picky and selective (Subtitles? No! Musicals? No! Black-&-White movies? No!), limiting his/her film diet. (3) And, finally, I've picked up an appreciation for what was achieved in older films that had fewer resources. Case in point: Elizabeth Taylor's big entrance in 1960's Cleopatra is peopled with literally thousands of extras - real people. Today, all that would be accomplished via CGI - the crowd would have been conjured up on a computer. The Wizard of Oz may seem primitive compared to today's Harry Potter films but I appreciate the thought and work that went into it - and still get a big kick when it turns from black-and-white into color. '

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