Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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12 Days of Christmas Movies: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES

pocketfulYesterday’s movie featured Bette Davis cast against type as a frump.  Today’s movie marks her transition into character parts.  It is 1961’s Pocketful of Miracles which was Frank Capra’s final movie.  Davis plays Apple Annie, a homeless woman who shakes down the other panhandlers in NYC.

In the complicated plot (based on a Damon Runyan story) Ann-Margret plays Davis’ daughter who has never met her because she has been away at boarding school in Switzerland (paid for with proceeds from Davis and her cohorts).  Glenn Ford and Hope Lange play a friendly gangster and his moll. Thomas Mitchell, Peter Falk, Edward Everett Horton, Arthur O’Connell and Sheldon Leonard.

Ford, Lange and Mitchell help Davis pass herself off as a society matron during her daughter’s visit. But of course, mayhem ensues.  It is a witty story filled with its share of Capraesque moments as people do the right thing for the right reasons.

Peter Falk nabbed an Oscar nomination for his wise-cracking portrayal of Joy Boy, one of Ford’s henchmen.  The film was the last for Mitchell, who once again played a lovable Irish drunk as he had in Gone with the Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life, Stagecoach (winning and Oscar) and so many other films.  Ann-Margret is, well, Ann-Margret.  While Ford and Lange may simply walk through their parts, they are affable, relaxed performers who seem to be enjoying the company.

Davis would later become a caricature of herself. But in this movie there are still flashes of brilliance.  She spends much of the movie looking unglamorous. But when she emerges as a regal society grand dame, it is clear that she still can command a room.

The climax of the movie takes place on Christmas Eve. Capra’s message of hope and redemption fits well within this setting.

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Last chance to see VELVETEEN RABBIT on stage at Arkansas Arts Center

aac velvrabWhat is real?” the Velveteen Rabbit asks his strange new friend. “Real is something that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long, time—not just to play with—but really loves you,” the old Skin Horse replies. From this moment on, the timid toy bunny longs for only one thing in the world—to become real.

But how can he become real when the boy doesn’t play with him or even notice him, let alone love him? Then one day, the Velveteen Rabbit is taken from the dark toy cupboard and finds himself in the warm arms of a sleeping child. And so he begins his journey down the long, long road to real.

This classic tale has been made “real” at the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre.

This is adapted by Keith Smith from the classic story by Margery Williams.

The final performance is at 2pm today.

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12 Days of Christmas movies: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

The_Man_Who_Came_to_DinnerWhat if you had a horrible house guest, and they would never leave?  That was the premise which launched Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman to write The Man Who Came to Dinner.  This rip-roaring stage play was made into a 1942 movie starring Monty Woolley, Bette Davis (cast against type as a frump) and Ann Sheridan.  In it Woolley plays a high-maintenance famous personality who is stuck as a guest in a house in small town Ohio due to an injury.

Others in the cast include Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Mary Wickes, Richard Travis, Grant Mitchell, and Reginald Gardner.  This is definitely a period piece rife with references to people and events in the 1930s and early 1940s.  But it is a lot of fun.  Woolley gleefully skewers everyone and everything in sight as he plots and plans ploys.

Most Kaufman and Hart plays and movies have underlying social themes or pertinent messages. This one does not.  Its only aim is to have fun.  Brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, do a good job of condensing the Kaufman & Hart play into a 90 minute movie without losing the bite or the wit.

Why is it a Christmas movie?  It takes place at Christmastime. A Christmas Eve radio broadcast is a plot point that provides a great deal of upheaval for the characters. In addition, a unique Christmas present serves as one half of a deus ex machina that helps wrap up the plotlines nicely.

Orson Welles, Don Knotts, Lee Remick, Joan Collins and Marty Feldman starred in a 1972 remake. A 2000 Broadway revival was filmed and aired on PBS with Nathan Lane, Jean Smart and Harriet Harris.

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A Swingin’ Holiday Extravaganza on Tap with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra this weekend

Photo courtesy of ASO

Photo courtesy of ASO

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO), Philip Mann, Music Director and Conductor, presents Swingin’ Holiday Extravaganza this weekend.  Performances began last night and continue tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 3 at the Pulaski Academy Connor Performing Arts Center, 12701 Hinson Road, Little Rock.

The ASO presents a children’s fair one hour before the Sunday concert featuring arts and crafts, instrument petting zoos, and live music. The fair is complimentary for ASO patrons.

Broadway singers Destan Owens and Mandy Gonzalez return to lead a celebration of holiday music and festival. Traditional tunes will be performed like “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and music from holiday movies like “The Polar Express” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The exciting and uplifting swing stylings of Owens and Gonzalez are sure to bring a smile to faces of all ages this holiday season. The Pops Live! Series is sponsored by Acxiom.  The concert sponsors are Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Tickets are $19, $35, $49, and $58; active duty military and student tickets are $10 are can be purchased online; at the Connor Performing Arts Center box office beginning 90 minutes prior to a concert; or by phone at 501-666-1761, ext. 100. All Arkansas students grades K-12 are admitted to Sunday’s matinee free of charge with the purchase of an adult ticket using the Entergy Kids’ Ticket, downloadable at the ASO website.

The Polar Express Concert Suite
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
The Christmas Song & Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Baby it’s Cold Outside
How the Grinch Stole Christmas Medley
We Need a Little Christmas
The Nutcracker Suite
Feliz Navidad
12 Days After Christmas
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Sleigh Ride
Audience Sing-Along: (Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, Deck the Halls, O Come, All Ye Faithful)
O Holy Night
The Prayer

About the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 49th season in 2014-2015, under the leadership of Music Director Philip Mann. The resident orchestra of the Robinson Center Music Hall – under renovation until 2016 – the ASO performs more than sixty concerts each year for more than 165,000 people around the state of Arkansas. During the renovation the ASO will perform the Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks Series at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center and the Acxiom Pops Live! Series at the Connor Performing Arts Center of Pulaski Academy. In addition to the Masterworks, Pops, and Landers FIAT River Rhapsodies, the ASO serves Arkansas through numerous community outreach programs and bringing symphonic music education to over 26,000 school children in over 200 schools.

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12 Days of Christmas: THE LION IN WINTER

Lion_In_Winter1Ah, Christmas! A time for family reunions.  Things may, at times, get a bit tense as everyone is gathering together in confined quarters.  But few Christmas gatherings compare to Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine as they gather with their sons at the castle where she has been imprisoned by her husband.

Joining in the festivities are Henry and Eleanor’s three sons: Richard the Lionheart, Geoffrey and John. Also present are Alais Capet, Henry’s mistress who is not as vacuous as she appears, and Philip Capet, the King of France who is Alais’ half-brother.

Alliances and allegiances shift as both rapiers and rapier wits are on display.

The cast is masterfully led by Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, who snagged her third Oscar for this film.  Anthony Hopkins appeared as Richard the Lionheart and future James Bond Timothy Dalton played King Philip.  Geoffrey and John were played by John Castle and Nigel Terry, respectively.

Based on James Goldman’s 1965 play, Goldman picked up an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay.  The movie’s third Oscar went to John Barry for his musical score.  O’Toole, director Anthony Harvey, and costume designer Margaret Furse all earned Oscar nominations, as did the film for Best Picture.

This is not a fast paced film, but it pays dividends with the joyfully biting interplay between Hepburn, O’Toole and the rest of the cast.

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Little Rock Look Back: Dr. John J. McAlmont, LR’s 25th Mayor and a founder of UAMS

McAlmontJohnJ_fFuture Little Rock Mayor John Josephus McAlmont was born on this date in 1821 in New York state. (Various reports give his birth date as December 22 — but the family reports December 19 as the date.)

After studying medicine in Pennsylvania and Ohio, he arrived in Little Rock in March 1850 with his family.  After practicing medicine in nearby Benton, he returned to Little Rock in 1852.  In addition to being a physician, he was a pharmacist.

During the Civil War, he relocated his family out of Little Rock (to a spot where the present day community of McAlmont bears his name).  Following the war, he moved them back to the City.  In 1866 he was elected Mayor of Little Rock, the first elected Mayor since local government resumed following the Civil War.

In October 1879, he and seven other physicians founded the Arkansas Industrial University Medical Department in Little Rock. This institution has grown into the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  He served on the faculty of the medical school for several years.

Dr. McAlmont died in September 1896.  He is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  In addition to the McAlmont community bearing his name, there is a McAlmont street in downtown Little Rock which was named in his memory.

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12 Days of Christmas Movies: HOME ALONE & HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK

home aloneJohn Hughes’ Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York combine the spirit of Christmas with Hughes’ own brand of safe anarchy.

While the original 1990 movie is by far superior, the 1992 sequel still has its charms.  I refuse to consider anything after that because they only weaken the franchise.

These movies nicely balance slapstick with messages of redemption. But they don’t veer too far in one direction or another.

Macauley Culkin (whose aunt Bonnie Bedelia stars in two of my other favorite Christmas movies – Die Hard) is certainly a key reason for the success. He is neither cloying or obnoxious (or obnoxiously cloying).

While the adults are meant to be more cartoonish, they still keep the film grounded.  Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern have wonderful chemistry as the Wet Bandits.  John Heard’s slightly befuddled father is an apt foil for Catherine O’Hara’s intense mother. The latter displays much warmth when needed, as well.

John Candy turns in a fun cameo in the first film. If you blink, you may miss future Tony nominee and The Newsroom actress Hope Davis as a French ticket agent.  The second film loads up on supporting players from Oscar winner Brenda Fricker, Tony nominees Tim Curry and Dana Ivey, SNL’s Rob Schneider and even a cameo from The Donald.  Former movie song and dance man Eddie Bracken plays the NYC toy store owner.

These are light-hearted films which still make me laugh out loud.  They are certainly enjoyable any time of the year, but especially at Christmas.


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