Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bridget Jones's Dairy (2001)

I know, this movie is pure fluff culled from the Barnes and Noble shelf called chick lit that no one wants to admit to reading and certainly, no movie buff would ever admit to liking a movie made from … chick lit. Well, I can’t claim to be a major movie buff, though I try, but I can claim to love this movie. It is my movie version of flannel PJs and hot chocolate. It makes me feel warm inside and always – ALWAYS - makes me feel better, mood-wise, for having watched it. I don’t care that it is fluff. Sometimes, fluff is comfort and therefore … good.

Movie Poster for "Bridget Jones's Dairy"

One of the most amazing things about this being total fluff is that, at its core, it really isn’t total fluff at all. The whole framework of the plot is based up Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” which happens to be one of my all-time favorite books. So you take a classic novel adored by women all over and add the fun fluff on top and … in my mind, that is pretty brilliant.

So what is all this fluff about? Well, this movie spans a year in the life of Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) as she decides to keep a diary in the hopes of getting it all together. She wants to do all the things that single women want – lose weight, develop a great career, find a man and live happily ever after. Of course, since this is a light romantic comedy, things don’t go nearly so easy. There are two men in her life, over the course of the year. One is Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) – not hard for any Jane Austen fan to decipher who he is. The second is Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) who also happens to be Bridget’s boss. Over the course of the year, not only does she contend with those men, but she has her crazy friends, her parents splitting up and her mom’s new boyfriend and other zany antics to keep anyone like me in complete delight for the length of the movie.

One of the things that I love about this film is that the heroine is so likable, but yet, a complete wreck. At every turn she says the wrong thing and does the wrong thing. She gets herself into the most embarrassing situations and always manages to grin and bear her way through it all. Renee Zellweger is not a favorite actress of mine, but she so totally embodies Bridget Jones that I am not sure anyone else could have done the part justice.

The other thing that makes this one so much fun is taking Hugh Grant, an icon of the female ideal for a romantic comedy and actually turning him into the totally charming and totally adorable … cad. It works so well because I swear Hugh’s eyes sparkle in delight just from his relief of getting to be a bad boy for once in his life. He seems to relish the role of cad and we relish his enjoyment.

Lastly, dear Colin Firth. Who doesn’t love this man? He is so adorable just standing there looking all stuffy. Any woman who has seen the BBC mini-series version of “Pride and Prejudice” completely lost their mind when he came striding out of the lake after his swim as Mark Darcy. Now here he is as Mark Darcy, again, a couple centuries or so later, being the reserved but strong and wonderful man we all love.

I have seriously seen this movie probably more than 15 times (yes, I know how pathetic that makes me and no, I don’t care) and I still adore it as much as I did the first time. I still laugh at how silly and poignant Bridget is to me and my own experiences and I think she always will be. It is a great movie around the holidays as it is about New Year’s resolutions and holiday gatherings. I highly recommend this movie for anyone who can stomach a total chick flick as it is by far, my recent (say, the last 30 years or so) favorite of the entire genre. Oh, and one word of warning for you, my dear readers, all two of you. Skip the sequel "The Edge of Reason" - just, oof, trust me on this one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday Affair (1949)

Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a WW2 widow who is struggling to raise her son, Timothy (Gordon Gerbert), and make ends meet. She has been dating a lawyer, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), for several years and despite many proposals from him she just hasn’t felt right about saying yes yet. While working as a comparison shopper during Christmas she runs into a store employee Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) and in a round about way helps him get fired. Throughout a series of situations, Steve keeps popping up in her life. Suddenly Connie is confused about which man to choose so Timothy steps in to help show her which one is right for her.

Robert Mitchum wishes Janet Leigh would turn around so he could admire her bullet bra

I felt terrible for poor Carl in this. He is such a swell guy, but he just seems so dull next to Robert Mitchum as Steve. Plus, I really enjoyed seeing Mitchum in a lighter role. He doesn’t try to be funny, he plays it very straight, which makes him very charming. This may be one of the few times I have thought he was actually attractive in a film, perhaps.

As for Janet Leigh, I have the strangest thing to say here. I can’t ever decide if I like her as an actress. She certainly has given a lot of great performances, but I think it is something about her face – it kinda looks hard. She usually plays very nice women, but something about her face always makes me think there is a pill lurking underneath. Of course, I don’t think most men even realize she has a face given the figure that bullet bra gave her.

I really don’t have much in the way of criticism on this. I thought all around it was a wonderful film. I have really enjoyed finding “holiday” films this year that I hadn’t seen before and this was definitely a great find. This isn’t a straight romantic comedy as the situation of her being a widow lends itself to a fair bit of drama in her trying to move on from such a devastating loss. The comedy is very subtle and lies in the awkward situations where Steve seems to always be turning up and Carl, being such a swell guy, must always be nice and accommodating to him.

I love holiday films and I especially love finding new holiday classic films to look forward to each year. If you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend you add it to your list for next year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

This is one of those movies that's impossible to watch the preview and remotely grasp what kind of a movie you will be watching. The previews would lead one to believe that they will be watching a silly little movie about a guy who becomes infatuated with today’s equivalent of a blow-up (but much more realistic) sex doll. However, what really lurks under here is a tender and sensitive tale about a young man, Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), who is so distant and afraid of being hurt that he can’t open himself up to love anything other than something as safe as his "love" doll named Bianca.

Bianca and Lars meeting his brother and sister-in-law

One of the things that I adore about this movie is its theme of acceptance and community. Once Lars takes a huge leap and starts to introduce Bianca around to his close-knit hometown, instead of treating him like a pervert, they try to show him compassion and open their arms to him and his new girlfriend. They realize that this recluse of a young man is reaching out, albeit in a terribly strange way, and if they reject him while he is finally coming out of his shell – he may never recover. The interesting thing is that as he begins to see how compassionate, warm and loving his town is to Bianca, he can start to risk opening himself up to more than just his "love" doll. The overall idea here is that compassion can heal people and I very deeply believe this to be true myself.

Ryan Gosling and his amazing performance as Lars is what makes this movie work. He plays the young man with such commitment and conviction that you begin to care for Bianca because you care so much about him and his struggle. He plays this delusional and sheltered man so well the audience immediately roots for Lars instead of snickering at him on the screen. That is quite a feat for a movie about a man in love with his doll.

Of course, all this serious psyche analysis talk doesn't mean that there aren’t quite a few absolutely riotous moments involving either Lars introducing Bianca to his family or the town’s reaction to seeing her “out and about” with Lars. It is very funny at times, but that really isn't the overall tone of the film as you might expect.

This is my second or third viewing of this film and I remember thinking that I want to live in a town like this – where people care enough to try to understand your problems rather than mock you for them. I loved the older woman at the church meeting that put everyone in their place by telling their family secrets about their problems and saying “These things happen” and pledging her support to act like Bianca is real.

The supporting cast is very good as well. The standouts for me were Emily Mortimore as the sister-in-law who kept trying to reach Lars in his shell. Also, Patricia Clarkson as the primary care physician who is clever enough to develop a rouse of giving Bianca weekly treatments just so she could talk to Lars and help him work through his problem.

I have recommended this one to many people and haven't had anyone say they didn't love it as much as I did. So to you out there who haven't seen this one and think that current movies are ALL rubbish - I highly recommend this film. This one will help you believe that original movies are still being made, albeit rarely. So relish this gem.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Paper (1994)

Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) is a newspaper editor and part of an insane world. He has a wife (Marisa Tomei) who is very pregnant and seemingly going very crazy, he has a reporter that insists his chair at work is debilitating him, he has another reporter (Randy Quaid) that insists a city official is out to kill him and Hackett just interviewed for a job that he got, but doesn’t want, but it may mean his marriage if he doesn’t take it. Then throw in a seemingly racially motivated murder that was pinned on a couple of teenagers who are innocent and Henry is on one side of the story and Alicia is, of course, on the other.

Close and Keaton square off in this fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable movie

I love movies that are about newspaper folks who are out to get a story and will sell their grandma to get it. You know, sell grandma in a good way. There is something so noble yet conniving at the same time about journalism in general and I think that makes great material for a movie.

I also love movies that are witty, fast-paced, wonderful ensemble casting and a conflict of a good person trying to do the right thing - no matter how hard or crazy it seems. It may sound like a cliche, but this movie has all of that and more.

One of the major themes throughout this movie is about choices and Keaton plays a man trying to keep his life together and figure out how to make it work. He is a workaholic about to become a father and can't seem to figure that there has to be a work/personal life balance. I like that he plays a guy that is so on top of things at work and so clueless about anything else. He is a delight to watch fast-talk and smart-ass his way in and out of trouble throughout the movie.

It also amazes me how the director, Ron Howard, is so masterful at ensemble films. He weaves so many character's stories into this film without feeling like you are short-changing the main character, because they all revolve around him in some way and telling the story of the people close to him furthers his story too. That also helps with the fast pacing and keeping the audience interested because much like an ensemble TV drama - the focus is jumping around to other characters to always keep things moving.

The script on this one is phenomenal with great one-liners. Here are a few of my favorites:

Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton): “Boy, sometimes you can just smell the horrendously shitty day on the way, can’t you?”

Bernie White (Robert Duvall): “Don’t ask marital advice from the guy with two ex-wives and a daughter who won’t speak to him. The problem with being my age is everybody thinks you’re a father figure, but you’re really just the same asshole you always were.”

Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton): “When did you get so paranoid?”
Mike McDougal (Randy Quaid): “When they started plotting against me.”

The one, really over-the-top scene kinda surprised me. Towards the end, Close and Keaton actually end up in a physical fight. It was a little crazy and unbelievable, but I have to say, Close is one of the few women who could make it look like a possible fair fight in the scenario, so you don't feel too upset at Keaton for pickin' on a defenseless woman. :-)

I watched this a decade ago and after this, my second viewing, enjoyed it as much - if not more - the second time around. If you have never seen this one or haven't seen it since it came out - give it another watch. Plus, you gotta watch it for the funny John Wayne imitation Keaton does to mock Close. This is definitely a fun one.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gunga Din (1939)

Okay, I have a confession. I need to whisper it though. Lean in close. Clooooser. Okay. Until now, I had never seen "Gunga Din". Yes, I consider myself quite the Cary Grant fan. Yes, I have had the movie on DVD for years. So, why haven't I seen it? Honestly, I think it is because I didn't want to watch all the Cary Grant greats at once. I like the idea of knowing I still have some that I can watch for the first time and get that rush of the first viewing experience. There are actually quite a few I still have left to see, but that is a discussion for another time.

Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr

Set in India, three British soldiers - Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr) - are the best of friends. Watching each other's back, terrorizing anyone that crosses them and generally having a great adventure. It soon becomes evident that the Thuggee cult is on a killing spree and the British Army's new mission is to try to find them and stop them from wiping out everyone in sight. Cutter befriends a native water bearer, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), who desperately wants to be a soldier and accidentally finds the Thuggee temple while searching for gold for his new friend. One of them gets captured, the other has to bring help and the audience is on the edge of their seats anticipating a showdown.

I have to say, this movie didn't disappoint even though I delayed my viewing gratification for years. And if you will excuse me for a second while I swoon, OMG - Cary Grant looked smokin' HOT in this one. He always looks great, but, this was over-the-top-hottie-on-screen goodness. Of course, I think I experience that almost EVERY time I watch a Cary Grant movie I either haven't seen before or it has been a long time since I have seen it. The magnetism is always .... (fanning myself) overwhelming, if you will.

And yes, I do have to focus even more on Cary. There are so many wonderful scenes in this one. I loved the beginning, that wonderful innocent, naughty little boy look he pulls in the beginning when Higginbotham tells him to let go of that man and he does, right out a window. He looks like, "You told me to let him go - it isn't my fault he fell out a window. Just following orders." Along the same lines, I also loved the scene where he is pouring the elixir into the punch and trying to hide what he is doing and just look like he is enjoying the party. Then the scene immediately following where he drags Higginbotham to the punch bowl and is pantomiming to MaLaglen that they should give Higginbotham the punch is hilarious. Just that quick, raised eyebrows and mischievous looks tells McLaglen everything he needs to know. AND, I loved hearing the cockney accent coming from Cary's mouth instead of the ultra-refined one he, well, refined instead.

I think, by far though, my favorite Cary moment in the movie is in the Thuggee Temple when he has to draw attention to himself so he marches around singing an English Pub song and ends it with "Now, you are all under arrest. The whole bunch of ya. And you too, (pointing to the leader) and you know why! Her Majesty is very touchy about having her subjects strangled."

All in all, this is a wonderful movie. It reminded me of a version of "The Three Musketeers" but set in India. The interplay between the three leads is wonderful throughout. Cary was tops for me, of course, but all three had wonderful scenes. I had a hearty laugh when Victor and Cary's characters were bickering and they called out for Douglas to intercede. He looked disappointed and sad, never looked at them and just said, "You displease me greatly and I ignore the both of you." Just ... perfect delivery and setup.

If I had to make a complaint about the movie - if I had to - it would be one that classic movie enthusiasts groan when they hear. The movie is dated a little, I think, and only because of the fighting style. I know George Stevens was going for a high adventure and high fun romp - so it make sense - but some of the early fight scenes in this look more like keystone cops taking on Thuggees than anything else. They just aren't very realistic - Grant can take on 8 men at once and lay each one out with just a quick punch. He seems immortal too - not flinching when hit with a chair and later, taking a bayonet in the back and a gunshot in the leg and still smiling and laughing at his friends carrying on while he is laying in the floor supposedly in too much pain to move. But, I add these in only because it is supposed to be a "balanced" movie review. I honestly thought the fight scenes were so much fun - I didn't give a hoot if they were realistic or not.

My last point before wrapping this one up is how wonderful Sam Jaffe was as Gunga Din. He played the character with such dignity and grace. I thought about how I approach my own job/life and how much enthusiasm he brought to just bringing water to everyone. A job most people would think beneath them, he makes it a most noble and important one. He really is wonderful.

So, I highly recommend not waiting years to see this one. It is wonderful beginning to end. I especially enjoyed noticing how many scenes/story lines/themes have been used in later movies as homages to this. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for example, used many scenes as homages to this wonderful film. Who knew? Well, you did if you weren't a dork like me and had already seen this!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Letter for Evie (1946)

Evie O'Connor (Marsha Hunt) is looking for romance. She works in a factory where they supply shirts for soldiers. Out of desperation, she slips a "Dear Soldier" letter into the shirt pocket of a 16.5 sized shirt hoping it would find its way to a tall, handsome, strapping young lad who would read it and fall in love with her. It does indeed find it's way to a tall and handsome lad, but the fact that he is Edgar "Wolf" Larson (John Carroll) means he is too busy chasing skirts to bother with writing a nice girl. However, his buddy Johnny McPherson (Hume Cronyn) who is the antithesis of him physically, listens to the letter and falls instantly in love. He begins writing her and they both fall in love ... that is ... till they have to meet face-to-face.

Hume Cronyn, Marsha Hunt and John Carroll

This could so easily have been just another one of those "mistaken identity" screwball, silly little romantic comedies. Not that there is anything wrong with the occasional fluff like that, but this movie makes it's mark with heartfelt scenes and unsuspected depth that leaves the audience feeling like they have watched something special. Don't get me wrong, it is a romantic comedy with light moments, but it is also much more.

I was intrigued by Hume Cronyn's sensitive performance in this. He doesn't usually do a role like this and it is very nice to see a different side to him. There is a scene where he is concerned that Evie is about to fall under the spell of his handsome Army buddy and decides the only way to get her out of the situation is to act like he is drunk. He plays it totally over the top and it is hilarious to watch ... Hume Cronyn of all people .... act like Jerry Lewis. Heeey Laaaaaaaaady!

This is a hard to find movie, but if you are lucky, you can catch it on TCM. It is definitely worth looking for - one of those rare gems forgotten over time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

Johnny (James Dunn) and Katie Nolan (Dorothy McGuire) are trying to raise a family in the Brooklyn tenements and barely surviving. The story is told through the eyes of their daughter Francie (Peggy Ann Garner) who is coming of age and trying to make sense of her parents as individuals, their relationship and what kind of person she wants to be as she gets older.

Peggy Ann Garner, Dorothy McGuire and Ted Donaldson

I read this book many years ago and again in the past few years. The book is very detailed and covers much more of the minor characters and intricacies of sub-plots. The book is definitely worth reading at least once, if you have a chance. The movie was a good addendum to the book because I had a hard time imagining what true Irish-American tenement life would be like in the early 1900s. The movie fills that in nicely and helps paint the picture of a family truly struggling to survive.

I find the adult characters of this story incredibly compelling. First of all, you have the patriarch, Johnny Nolan. He is an alcoholic and doesn't do a good job of providing for the materials his family needs, but does that make him an all bad father? As they say in the film, he gives of himself generously. He inspires his daughter, he listens to her, he helps her with her problems, he is kind and makes her proud he is her father.

At the opposite end you have Katie Nolan. Katie and Johnny love each other, but the stresses of family life puts a definite strain on them. Katie comes off as a woman that has grown hard and questions that in the film. If she is, she has gotten that way because she had to care for her family, work to make money and provide the necessities. While Johnny could be loving because he had the time without work, she felt she never had enough time to sit and give of herself in that way. She grows resentful of her role and also of the love Francie lavishes on her father.

The reason I find these characters so compelling is because I keep asking myself, would I want to be more like Katie Nolan who is the rock of her family (both in good and bad ways) or more like Johnny Nolan who is the life of his family (both in good and bad ways). I can't answer it for myself yet, so I will be pondering this for a while. Obviously a combo of the two is the best answer, but these characters were purposefully made polar opposites for illustrative purposes, I am sure. Betty Smith knew what she was doing when she wrote the novel. :-)

I think the difference is best described with their views about the Gathers family. Flossy Gathers is a young girl who is very sick and probably going to die. Her family makes the decision to stop spending money on funeral insurance for her and instead spend the money on pretty dresses for her to wear. Johnny's feelings are expressed when he sees Flossy in one of her new dresses.

Johnny: "Well, will you look at our beautiful princess tonight in a brand new gown."
Flossy:"It is made out of silk."
Johnny: "Silk? Oh, don't you tell me that. This dress is made out of flower petals and birds wings and a little old piece of cloud. Anybody can tell that."

Flossy beams because of the exchange. Later, when Flossy dies, Katie and Johnny have a fight. Katie thinks it isn't right that her parents were irresponsible by not keeping up the funeral insurance. Flossy will now be buried in Potter's Field since they couldn't pay for a proper burial. Johnny says that at least she enjoyed the pretty dresses while she was alive because he doesn't think she cares where she is buried now.

I think the point of all this is that there isn't a right or wrong answer, but I have to say that it really makes me think about my values in life. I won't give any crucial plot points away, but the end of the film does have Francie and Neely reflecting on how much fun they had "as kids". I didn't have much money as a child either, but I never realized it and I had fun too. Sometimes, money isn't the most important thing in life and this story felt like a good reminder of that.

I want to add in here that I think one of the early unsung heroes of the movie is Joan Blondell as Sissy Edwards. I think people look over the importance of Sissy in the story. She lightens things up and tries to help keep the peace. When she sees the people she loves struggling, she tries to set them on the right path. Joan Blondell plays this part wonderfully with all the warmth and vivaciousness you would expect. I can't help and wonder if she is not a large piece of the tape holding this family together since she can help both Johnny and Katie see the other's point of view. This also illustrates how important other relationships are outside the main family unit and how keeping those relationships alive is beneficial. Again, what is important to us?

I thought this movie was wonderful. The acting is top-notch and Elia Kazan as a director is perfect for this. The story is heart-breaking, yet inspiring at the same time. If you haven't seen this, put it on your list to watch when things are looking bleak. It will help you feel like things really aren't so bad.