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.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Saw What You Did (1965)

Two teenage girls, and a younger sister to one of them, spend an evening randomly picking names out of the phone book to prank call. Somehow they latch on to a particular person/number, Steve Marak (John Ireland) and tell him "I saw what you did and I know who you are". This is intriguing to him because he had just murdered his wife and didn't particularly want any loose ends.

The Cougar - the BEST part of the entire movie - you go Joan

By far, the best part about the entire movie is Joan Crawford's role. She plays Amy (seriously, Amy? Do you think she looks like an Amy?) Nelson, an older woman that is well off and desperately wants Steve. They had obviously had or were still involved in an affair when Steve decided to off his wife. It takes a bit for Amy to realize that his wife just didn't leave of her own accord and decides she can use this information to make him marry her and keep him under her thumb. Now, I am not sure on what planet marrying a murderer is a good idea or even worse - trying to blackmail a murderer to make him marry you - but I guess when you are Joan Crawford you are scared of nothing. :-) Oh, and by far the best moment was seeing ballsy Joan pull this young girl out of the bushes by her hair and yell "Yoooooouuuu Traaaaaaamp!!!!" Only Joan can pull that off to a young girl and not have the audience totally hate her.

Halfway through this movie I remember thinking, "Our younger generation may be getting fat from being glued to the TV and to video game consoles, but there is something to be said for that keeping them out of trouble at least." I don't see many young people stalking murderers for sport, so maybe TV and video games aren't the worst thing they can do with their time afterall.

This whole story starts at a house that is out in the middle of nowhere. To have her friend come over she has to give explicit directions like, "Drive 16 miles out of town, at the red barn, turn right. Go 8 more miles that way, you'll see a bush, turn left. If you pass a rooster, you have gone too far and turn back." It sounded amazingly complicated and very long. Yet, the murderer with just an address on a card instantly knows exactly where they live and is able to drive there with no further instructions. I have a GPS in my car and access to mapquest and I am STILL not sure I could have found her house on the first try. I guess it is murderer's luck.

The thing that was most broken about this movie was the soundtrack they used. Throughout the movie, you have a suspenseful moment, where the murderer is creeping into a room, and they have this crazy, poppy, 60s music playing in the background. It is almost too bizarre to even describe. Even the end of the film, ***********SPOILER ALERT********* where the murderer literally threw a knife at a little girl and tried to strangle the older girl just seconds before - the older girl says, "We're not going to be using the phone for a long, long time" and both the girls suddenly giggle, walk away from the body of the murderer and suddenly this poppy, 60s soda shop music starts and the end credits roll. What kinda suspense movie ending is that?!?! I guess almost being killed is pretty normal in their world. The music made it sound like they were heading off for some hot cocoa and a pajama party.

As you have probably gathered from this review, I can't really recommend this whole film. I recommend watching the beginning with Joan Crawford just because she is so much fun to watch chew through scenery in this. Other than that, this is the epitome of a bipolar film (part suspense/part camp) that tries to satisfy everyone which ultimately satisfies no one.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Devil-Doll (1936)

I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of modern day horror movies. Even when they are supposed to be kinda funny, I just don't see the point in all the blood, guts and gore. Nor do I really see the point in watching something that is meant to prey upon my fears to scare me. I just ... never saw that as a positive, really. So it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I started recording some of the "horror" movies on TCM this month. I decided to give them a try because I reasoned I knew nothing about the beginnings of the genre and like most movie genres, I may prefer the classics to the current fare.

Would you believe me if I told you Lionel Barrymore was in this photo?

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) is a wrongly convicted man. He was framed by his three partners for robbing the bank they jointly owned and killing a guard. He has been sent away for almost 2 decades when he finally escaped with a fellow inmate, Marcel. The two throw the police off the chase and end up at a laboratory where Marcel's wife, Malita, has been carrying on her husband's experiments. The project they are trying to complete is shrinking humans to 1/6th their size. When Lavond sees what happens when the humans are shrunk, he soon develops a plan to seek revenge on his former partners. Ooooo-kay.

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a great movie, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. I expected a horror movie, but what I saw was something more layered than strictly a horror tale. It had romance, emotion, humor - the whole bit. The ending, instead of being a scare-your-pants-off kinda ending, was actually the ending you would expect on a good drama.

Having said all that, there are plot holes and hilarious bad science premises galore, that you can pick at if you chose. There is some "camp" acting mixed in with a fair bit of good acting. The "camp" factor is cemented when Barrymore goes full-on drag waltzing around the police as a sweet grandma-ma type character who has an assistant that looks like the Bride of Frankenstein (see photo below) complete with white streak, dark eye makeup and way over-acted wide eyes that look half crazy for dramatic effect. If that isn't camp, I don't know what is. And, even though it made it less of a horror movie probably, I loved it all the more. And you know what? Barrymore was TOTALLY believable as the old lady. I had to do a double-take to realize it was him.

Seriously - is it homage or rip-off?

Even more surprising to me is how the special effects aren't bad at all. I mean, we are talking 1936 and I don't think anyone watching this 70 years later would be pointing to the screen and laughing at the effects. It appears the filmmakers were smart enough to use very simple techniques which make it look solid on film.

The ending, which I won't give away, took me by surprise. Not because of what happened necessarily, but because how wonderfully Lionel Barrymore portrayed his emotions and showed his character trying to suppress them. It was a powerful bit of acting that wasn't overdone (like the Barrymores tend to do as a whole) and it was just, superb.

At a run-time of under 80 min - I definitely recommend this one as a time capsule of what I assume is somewhat representative of the early horror genre. It isn't strictly horror so it has a little bit of something for everyone - drama, crime, romance, horror, sci-fi, emotions, revenge ... even a miniature "half-wit, inbred orphan" that acts like a little nymph when she is shrunk down. Intriguing, no? :-)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

I always wondered how a simple and sentimental movie about a school teacher could net Robert Donat a Best Actor Oscar in one of the most hotly contended Oscar years ever. Well, now I have watched it and now I know.

Elderly Mr. Chips at the beginning of the movie

Robert Donat, same year, will someone explain to me how this young man came to look like the elderly man seen above?!?!?

I am probably the last person on earth to just get 'round to watching this one, but in case there is one more out there, here's the plot. The movie opens with an elderly Mr. Chips (Robert Donat) reflecting back on his life from the point that he was travelling to take his appointment as teacher at a prestigious private school. Is shows him as an almost painfully shy young man, desperate to do a good job and have his student like and respect him, but he can't seem to break out of the shell of shyness. After approximately a decade on the job, and being passed over for promotion, he finds himself on a trip to Austria. It is here that he meets Katherine (Greer Garson) and they fall in love, marry, and he brings her back to school. It is Katherine that helps ease him out of his shell and helps give him the confidence to become the man and teacher he always wanted to be.

Robert Donat is so completely believable as the 83-year-old man. Not only does he look different, but he carries himself completely different. He sounds completely different. When he delivers the somewhat teasing and grumpy old man line of, "Enough of your loathsome statistics woman, go about your business" you certainly can't imagine that coming from the younger version of himself. What a difference in demeanor and presence between the older Mr. Chips and the young, shy instructor who speaks slow and looks so awkward. I would have sworn on my life that they hired an old man to play the part. How on earth - in 1939 - did they make a 34-year-old Robert Donat look so different and believable as an 83-year-old?

I also want to mention Greer Garson's role too. It is amazing how skillfully and gracefully Katherine helps ease his uncomfortableness at social situations and teaches him how to interact with confidence. I think I have fallen for Greer Garson in this role. She is peaches and cream, delightful ... perfection.

This movie is a testament to storytelling. Chips isn't an extraordinary man really, he is someone that we can identify with - a shy person who learns to reach out. Give good actors and a good director a wonderful, simple story to tell without all of today's over-the-top trappings and this is what you often get - magic. I highly, highly recommend this one if you haven't already seen it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

I am not going to lie to you. If you watch this movie, you are going to cry. It is perhaps one of the saddest movies I have ever seen.

Bruno shaking hands with his new found friend

Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is an 8-year-old boy growing up in Germany. His father is a Commandant in the German Army who has been assigned to oversee Auschwitz. They move to a house near the concentration camp and Bruno is miserable that he isn't allowed out to explore the surrounding area. As any young child would most likely do, he disobeys his parents and goes exploring anyway. He eventually finds and befriends a boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) whom he thinks lives on a strange farm and wears strange striped pajamas.

It is interesting to watch the atrocity that happened through the eyes of a young, innocent boy. It makes complete sense that there is no way for children to take in and understand what they are seeing as it happens. The innocent questions Bruno asks and the conclusions he draws, when we as the audience knows what's really going on, is completely heart-breaking.

One of the things I liked is how all of the German characters, even Bruno, are shown as humans who are capable of both good and bad acts. It would have been so easy to paint all the German soldiers as monsters, and while most of them were monsters to the Jewish population, they are still shown as multi-dimensional, caring folks to others. Even Bruno is shown to have faults when faced with a difficult situation.

Everything about this movie is both beautiful and heart-breaking simultaneously. The performances are amazing. Both boys show so much innocence and pain on their faces, I don't know how they were able to pull off the performances they did about such a horrible tragedy at such a young age. I would imagine it would be terribly difficult for a young boy to even understand the depth of emotions, nevermind portray them. Most of the adult actors give restrained performances consisting largely of subtle looks as Bruno asks questions to try to understand. I liked they also showed the range of emotion an adult felt (Bruno's mother) when learning the truth of what was really happening at the camps. It helps give an emotional counter-balance to the calm German soldiers coldly going about their business. I also want to add that the cinematography and lighting is all so stunning too. It is so hard to take in the beauty of the cinematography when the subject is so disturbing. It creates an attraction/repulsion at the same time which works because that is what most of the characters are feeling as well.

Believe me, I know it is sometimes hard to get geared up for watching a gut-wrenching film, but this is a very important one. Gird yourself and go for it. This is a great film that everyone needs to watch. Just remember to bring to bring your kleenex as you have been warned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Perry Mason (1934 - 1936)

I have a great, great fondness for Warren William. He has largely been forgotten by today's audiences, but I think there is a faithful flock of folks that have rediscovered his work and developed great admiration. As such, I DVRed the Perry Mason marathon last month and just got 'round to watching.

"The Case of the Howling Dog" (1934)

In order, the four movies are "The Case of the Howling Dog" (1934), "The Case of the Curious Bride" (1935), "The Case of the Lucky Legs" (1935) and "The Case of the Velvet Claws" (1936). I won't go into the plots of each of them as they all have different flavors and have different actors/actresses playing similar supporting roles.

Warren is wonderful in everything he does so he is, of course, great as a slick lawyer type that is not above totally breaking the law to finesse justice to the best of his advantage. Warren plays Perry as an extremely charming, quick thinking, witty and urbane .... shyster type. This Perry Mason in no way resembles Raymond Burr's Perry. Warren's Perry reminds me more of what Nick Charles from the "Thin Man" would have been like if he had been a lawyer.

I would have thought the first movie "The Case of the Howling Dog" with Mary Astor would have been one of my favorites, but for some reason, it didn't gel quite right with me. It might have been me, but I found the plot a bit overcomplicated and difficult to follow. I guess they were way too clever for my feeble brain. It was a good start though, to get me in the Perry frame of mind.

The next two "The Case of the Curious Bride" and "The Case of the Lucky Legs" were both wonderful - you have Perry Mason flirting with Della Street as well as any other woman he comes in contact with. You also have Allen Jenkins as the wonderful sidekick Spudsy. Perry also joins the ranks of the charming mystery solvers that can't find a clue without a drink in his hand. There are many jokes and gags regards to his penchant for the spirits and both movies are fun mystery romps that I highly recommend.

The last "The Case of the Velvet Claws" really fell short of my expectations, unfortunately. Warren is still as wonderful as always, but Allen Jenkins didn't return as Spudsy and his absence was very much noticed. Also, the movie series totally "jumped the shark" by starting the movie with a marriage between Perry Mason and Della Street. This tempered the sexual tension between them, it also stopped him from flirting with every single woman so as not to look like a cad and it just ended up not as fun a turn as a result. It is not surprising that this was the last one in the Perry Mason series, unfortunately.

If you are a great fan of Warren William, you should probably make an effort to watch all four. If not, you will be happier just watching the first three and skipping the last. You won't be missing much - you could save the time and re-watch one of Warren's many other wonderful movies.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

House of Mirth (2000)

I was very nervous about watching this one as it is one of those that people report as the worst movie ever made or the most brilliant movie they have ever seen. I doubted I would believe either of those, but I was worried about truly disliking this movie. I needn't have worried.

Lawrence (Eric Stoltz) and Lily (Gillian Anderson) would have had beautiful redheaded, blue-eyed and, almost so pale as to be translucent, children

As a woman of the early 1900s, Lily Barton (Gillian Anderson) finds herself in a most common quandary for women of that time. Does she marry for love or does she find a rich man to marry so she can live without material worry? Of course, that is not the only plot driving this film. It is also about society and what sacrifices one must make to stay true to oneself. Lily is torn between a life with a society lawyer that she loves, Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), and the possibility of marrying a rich man, most likely Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia). Add to that the nasty turns of society with her frenemy Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney) and best friend's husband Gus Trenor (Dan Akroyd) and Lily finds herself in many precarious situations. As she says herself, "We resist the big temptations, but it is the little ones that pull us down."

I really think Gillian was wonderful in this role. I read so many reviewers talking about how slow her speech seemed and how stiff and reserved she seemed. Well, yeah, that was the way the character was supposed to be. This whole movie is not about spelling out the feelings of the characters in words, but watching subtle nuances on the actor's faces for emotional cues. In fact, most of this movie is about characters saying one thing, but the actors having to pull off showing a completely different emotion on their faces. There really were some wonderful performances in this that I am not sure people in the age of Terminator and the like would truly understand.

One of the wonderful scenes of the movie was between Lily and Lawrence. They make simply touching hands seem so erotic. With Lily's breathing becoming more rapid and Lawrence saying he has nothing to offer her, but it would be hers if he did. The heartbreak of what little is being said there, but with such underlying meaning. All the while the gentle touch of two hands .... and the ache of desire. Yet circumstances making it so that neither is willing to risk their need for material comfort for love.

I have to admit, I have never read Edith Wharton's book so I was terribly confused by the title. After some research I found the answer. Ecclesiastes 7:3-4: Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. I really like this quotation for, at times, this proves I must surely be most wise.

Lastly, I have to speak about Bertha's character and Laura Linney's performance of Bertha. I have often thought Laura Linney is a most underrated actress. She proves it yet again with her turn as Bertha who would be a welcome addition on any of today's reality TV shows. She would be known as what is called "good TV". Some of the quotes from the movie referencing her character are wonderful such as, "For always getting what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman." This is followed up with a question about liking such a nasty person. The response is, "It's much safer to be fond of dangerous people." Laura plays her as such a cunning and manipulative little ... witch. She is sheer ... witchy perfection.

I do admit that this movie is quite a downer. It is sad that the whole reason that Lily couldn't succeed - her fatal flaw - is that she was simply too nice to play the ruthless games that one had to play in high society. She had many chances to triumph over those who pushed her down, but she always felt her dignity and staying true to herself was more important.

As for my recommendation, the costumes, sets, performances and cinematography - everything about this movie is wonderful. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes subtle films and is okay with an unhappy ending.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Due to the death of John Hughes recently, Encore movie channel decided to run some of his movies as a tribute. I happen to have the High Def version of Encore and became immediately excited about the idea of recording Jake Ryan in High Def. Seriously, I watched this movie before puberty and Jake Ryan became as much an idol to me as Magnum PI and Remington Steele. So ... hot.

Jake Ryan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) just turned 16 and due to her sister's wedding, everyone has completely forgotten. To soften the blow she decides to trounce a geek's heart (Anthony Michael Hall) and set her sights on the most gorgeous guy in school (also most gorgeous guy ever in a teen flick) - Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).

I will be the first to admit this is not a good movie. I still laugh every time I see it though! "No more yankey my wankey!" This was as close as we came to a Judd Apatow film in the 80s. I don't think it is possible to watch this and not chuckle at least once. The most difficult thing about this movie is how completely improbable it is. Let's see, this seriously gorgeous and rich senior guy dating a seriously gorgeous and rich blond senior girl is tired of her partying ways and wants to settle down with an almost mousy sophomore just because she said she wanted to have sex with him. What planet was this filmed on?!?!?! There is no teenage boy that would turn down Caroline (the seriously gorgeous blond) for Samantha (the mousy sophomore).

Since this movie is silly, I have seen a silly game that I thought I would try. It is to list the silly things you learned from the movie. I will list a few things here:

1. In HD, Jake Ryan has cute little freckles.
2. Freshmen will pay to see a girl's panties.
3. Grandmas like to feel up their granddaughters.
4. Rubbing lemons into your elbows is a beauty secret.
5. Men prefer mousy, flat-chested redheads to gorgeous, stacked blonds.

Audience participation time: Can you think of any other items you learned from this movie?

I highly recommend this one for when you are in your mid-life crisis and need to escape back to your days of school when your biggest worry was your hair or acne or when you would hook-up as in HOOK-UP with someone finally. Ahhhh, good times.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ever Since Eve (1937)

I had heard of Marion Davies before, but only because she was a mistress to William Randolph Hearst for 30 years until his death. I had never actually seen her in a movie. When TCM showed some of her movies for their Summer Under the Stars series, I decided to record a few. I started with "Not So Dumb" actually, and almost wanted to turn it off. Her fakey voice and silly, annoying "I'm dumb, but cute, so love me" character really was a turn off. However, after talking to my movie mentor, he suggested I watch "Ever Since Eve" in all it's role-reversal glee to try to redeem my overall opinion of Marion Davies.

Marion Davies portrait "borrowed" from doctormacro1 and colored by someone named Brittany

Marge Winton (Marion Davies) is a gorgeous blond secretary who can't keep a job because her male bosses always put the moves on her and she inevitably gets fired when she turns them down. In order to keep a job, she comes up with a brilliant plan of dressing up in full-on frump so that her employers will focus on her skill and not on her appearance. All seems to go well until she is asked to work with a writer named Freddy Matthews (Robert Montgomery) and he eventually sees her without the plain Jane costume and falls in love. After that, mistaken identities, dance numbers and stick 'em ups abound!

This is one of the more improbable screwball comedies I have seen in a while. It starts out sane, but by the end it is so completely off-the-charts zany that you know you enjoyed yourself but wonder how on earth you got there. Marion Davies didn't have the crazy voice like she did in "Not So Dumb" and played a smart lady so I have now forgiven her for annoying me so the other day. Plus, she is cute as a button so I had already forgiven her a bit anyway, truth be told. If that wasn't enough, her romantic rival (Marcia Ralston) went to the school of Ethel Barrymore eye acting (continually narrowing and widening one's eyes to try to show emotion) so that alone makes Marion Davies look completely brilliant! Well done!

A huge bonus for me was seeing Robert Montgomery again. Speaking of forgiving, this one almost made me forgive him making me sit through "Lady in the Lake". Al-most. He is back to sweet "Mr & Mrs. Smith" charming fun and frivolity in this one. I also really enjoyed the supporting cast. Frank McHugh, Patsy Kelly and Barton MacLane help round out the film and provide a bit of a comedic foundation to allow the in-zanity.

This wasn't a great film, but it was definitely enjoyable and most importantly, entertaining. I definitely recommend checking this out if you happen to catch it on TCM sometime. It is worth the 80 minute investment.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

I really shouldn't admit this for fear of stones being thrown by various movie lovers, but I will be brave and just say it. I have a really hard time with Woody Allen movies. I usually like the clever dialogue and I usually like that Allen is making fun of himself in some way or other, but I have little patience for watching Woody Allen play the same character, himself, over and over on the screen.

Lenny (Woody Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) decide they should adopt a child. Well, really she decides and suddenly they are holding a baby boy named Max. The boy thrives in the intellectual environment and by the time he is of pre-school age he has been designated as extremely intelligent. Lenny and Amanda's marriage hits the rocks and Lenny starts fantasizing about the mother (Mira Sorvino) of his adopted son and tracks her down.

Even though I have a difficult time with Woody Allen movies, this one was one of the better ones I have seen. I loved the device of using the Greek Chorus between scenes to both draw parallels to Oedipus and contemporize it in a humorous way. That was a stroke of genius.

What I thought really didn't work very well was the pairing of Woody Allen and Helena Bonham Carter. He was 60 and she was 29. That may have been overcome if either showed the remotest amount of interest in the other. I think it is an understatement to say there was zero chemistry. From the beginning of the movie I was puzzled how they ever got together and how they could really be in love.

My other issue was that the character Mira Sorvino played grated on my nerves. Her voice and her vapidness (is that a word?) made me want to fast-forward through every scene she was in. After hearing so much about her performance due to her winning the best supporting actress Oscar in 1996, I have to say that I don't see it as an Oscar-worthy performance. She is good as the dumb blond and I know that she isn't that way in real-life, but really, does that make it Oscar worthy?

However, even though everything doesn't seem to fit together perfectly in this, I still say it is a terribly funny movie. I particularly loved Olympia Dukakis as Jocasta and Jack Warden as Tiresias as part of the Greek Chorus. The Greek Chorus manages to both lift up the sophistication level while at the same time showing the movie isn't trying to take itself too seriously. That alone made this film brilliant. I recommend this one for the humor, the Greek Chorus and perhaps the line "I'm sure that you're a state-of-the-art fellatrix." Can't beat that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Recently the gauntlet was thrown down, so to speak, by my friend and fellow blogger Jenny. Whilst discussing "Truly, Madly, Deeply" here in one of my entries, she shared my enthusiasm for the movie and the actors in the comments section. She said, "Alan Rickman is sexy. You have have to, have to watch Sense and Sensibility now. If you have already watched it, you have to watch it again and notice Alan and how sexy he is. " So, apparently, I had to ... because gosh, I don't remember thinking anything about Alan Rickman after watching that one. I mean, seriously, he was an old man or something?

Mr. Rickman

So, about "Sense and Sensibility". I never know how to do a good synopsis of a movie adapted from a Jane Austen novel. There are generally too many twists and turns for any of it to make much sense in a small paragraph form. The important bits are that two of the three Dashwood sisters are of marrying age and are looking for love. Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet) have vastly different approaches to finding and expressing love. Of course, gentlemen must enter the picture in the form of Col. Branden (Alan Rickman), Mr. Willoughby (Greg Wise) and Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) so as to court the ladies. You are pretty sure there will be a wedding at the end, but the twists and turns and who weds who is always the interesting part.

One of the great things about this one is not only the wonderful performances (shout out to the cranky Hugh Laurie in this), but the direction is wonderful too. I know that the direction has a lot to do with it because I have seen quite a few Ang Lee films now. He is a master when he is directing the shots. As an amateur photographer, I have little patience for any film that doesn't take the time to do something other than simply follow the action with a camera. It *has* to be more than that for a rich movie experience and Ang Lee is one of those directors that totally gets that. I heart that about his films.

Now, keep in mind I was about 20 when I saw this film in the theatre. For some reason, I haven't seen it since even though I own the DVD and really liked the movie. So many movies, so little time. It is amazing how much your life experience plays into what you feel about the same movie. Have you ever noticed this?

At the tender young age when I first saw this, I totally identified with Kate Winslet's character who wanted to be exuberant about love and not play coy. She didn't want to hold anything back and therefore put her heart right out there without even a thought of anyone ever mistreating it. I was all about Mr. Willoughby because he was dashing and charming and FUN. Lord, was he fun.

Now, almost a decade and a half later (good golly!) and at a not-so-tender age anymore, I totally identify with Emma Thompson's character. She holds her feelings deep below the surface so as not to allow just anyone to come along and trample all over them. She feels love just as much as her younger sister, but doesn't run around like a school girl telling everyone. The other epiphany of me watching this at an older age is, indeed, just how sexy Alan Rickman and his character is in this film. He is compassionate, loving, steadfast and true. You may not look at him and think "Woohoo - he MUST be the life of the ball" but I would look at him and think proudly, "That is my kind man whom I love so very much." I would happily sit with him in the garden and let him read me poetry all day. :-)

So, the same film, viewed almost 15 years later which almost translates to a lifetime of experiences, led to a totally different movie experience and result. I have noticed this happen many other times and at first am always surprised at how different the film was in my memory and it takes a while to realize the film and memory is the same, the viewer is the one who has changed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

An American Crime (2007)

This is the true story of Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page). Her parents worked with traveling carnivals and in 1965, their marriage was on the rocks. They separated largely due to the fact the mother no longer wanted to travel with the carnivals, fearing it was too hard on their daughters Sylvia and Jennie. The father comes back and asks his wife to go with him on a carnival circuit, again, where they can save money for their family. He proposes leaving the girls with a lady from church, Gertrude Baniszewski (Catharine Keener), who also has children and will keep them just a few weeks as a way of making some money. Reluctantly the mother agrees.

As with stories like this, things go well at first until Sylvia and Jennie are beaten with a belt when their parent's money doesn't arrive exactly on time (it is a day late). Then the oldest daughter of Gertrude's becomes jealous of the attention Sylvia is getting from the boys in school and tells her mother that Sylvia is spreading rumors about her. This cements the already growing hatred Gertrude feels towards Sylvia and the abuse escalates. Sylvia somewhat accepts her fate as a way of protecting her sister figuring if Gertrude focuses on her, at least her sister will be spared. Sylvia is eventually locked in the basement where Gertrude encourages her kids and the neighborhood kids to "punish" Sylvia in a variety of harsh and evil ways. The neighbors hear Sylvia's screams coming from the basement, but everyone agrees it is a private matter and it is best if they mind their own business.

Catherine Keener in an oddly, somewhat tender moment with Ellen Page

This movie is obviously incredibly hard to watch, but if you have the stomach for it, I encourage you to do so. The script is based off the court transcripts. They shot the movie in sequential order so the actors could feel the progression of the atrocities. Ellen also took advantage of that and stopped eating so that she could feel Sylvia's starvation pain and lose weight to portray a young girl being starved. I also thought it was brilliant that Catherine Keener didn't play the role like a raving monster. It is a very subtle terror. At one point she asks her son, "Who's in charge?" He replies, "You are Momma" and I think that says it all.

On a personal note, I had an extreme emotional reaction to this movie that I will never forget. My mother very rarely talked about it, but eventually she told me her mother was paranoid schizophrenic. Everything was okay while her dad was alive, but when he died when Mom was 5, all bets were suddenly off. Her mom was incredibly cruel to my Mother. She wouldn't give her clothes or blankets in the winter, preferring to watch her freeze. She shaved her head to humiliate her. She physically and even sexually abused her, and these were just the things Mom dared talk about once, when I was older. I am sure there were so many more things that I never knew about. My Mom had a brother and a half brother. They were also encouraged or forced to hurt my Mom as well. Why Mom? I am not sure, I think her mom was jealous of how much her dad loved her. There may not have really been a reason other than her mom was sick.

It all came to an end one summer day when her mother decided to build a brush fire in front of their house. This was alarming enough to the neighbors as it could get out of control and destroy their property. The neighbors came out to see what was going on when they saw my Mom's mom trying to get her sons to throw her daughter on the brush pile. My Mom was screaming and fighting as best she could for her life. After months and months of neighbors ignoring shrieks of pain they must have heard coming from my Mom, someone finally stepped in and called the police.

I had such an emotional reaction because I couldn't help thinking of my Mom as I watched Ellen portray Sylvia. I also couldn't help think how amazing it is that my Mom was able to be a kind and loving Mom after such an extremely difficult childhood. She was an incredible woman to overcome the abuse and forgive her brothers and be able to love anyone after something like that.

I tell this story now because my Mom is gone now and everyone involved in the story, her mom and her brothers are all gone now too. I don't have any family on her side anymore so there is no one to hurt by telling this story that no one else can tell. It is unbelievable to me how close my Mom came to death as a child just because neighbors thought it was all a private matter. If her mom hadn't chosen such a public venue, I am certain she would have been killed in the house eventually. It is chilling to think myself and my brother and his children came that close to never existing.

I also tell this story to say this happens way more often than any of us think and it is NEVER okay to think it isn't our responsibility to step in or speak up. I wish someone had stepped in earlier for Sylvia and I also wish someone would have saved Mom earlier too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fashions of 1934 (1934)

Sherwood Nash (William Powell) is a con man who is always trying to think of another hustle. After several others didn't quite work out, he happens upon a talented fashion designer named Lynn Mason (Bette Davis). From there they begin a scheme of knocking off original designs and while that doesn't last it leads them to their next plan and possibly even to romance.

Bette Davis in a publicity still from Fashions of 1934

I am doing this blog really just to share Robert Osborne's hilarious intro to this one when it came on TCM recently. I watched the film and, unfortunately, either the film was a little lackluster or I was completely distracted the whole time. I think it was more the latter issue as I was constantly interrupted. I really will have to watch this one again, I think, to really get much out of the whole viewing experience. So this isn't really a review as much as a sharing of the wonders of Robert Osborne's way of bringing films to life.

I am putting quotes around it, but this is perhaps slightly paraphrased as I was typing directly from the TV. If I missed the exact wording, don't sue me. Robert said, "She (Bette) is glamorized beyond recognition. Her hair is bleached blonde and straightened. Her eyes and face have enough makeup to sink the Titanic. She wears gowns by Orry-Kelly that no human being would wear this side of a Halloween party. She went along with it once, just once. When she saw herself on screen she vowed to never let them do that to her again. Part of the fun of watching this one is knowing the seething fury going on in the mind of Bette Davis while she is parading around in all those ridiculous outfits."

I laughed every time I saw her on screen, almost, imagining her as a very angry furball of a kitty with these big huge eyes being forced into "cute" outfits for everyone else's amusement. I kept imagining the kitty hissing and fighting and eventually giving in only to be ashamed by the result when she looked in the mirror. That whole image in my mind was worth the price of admission, as they say. :-)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Night to Remember (1943)

No, this is not the early Titanic movie. :-) Nancy Troy (Loretta Young) rents a basement Greenwich Village apartment so her husband Jeff (Brian Aherne) can soak up the ambiance of the area and switch from murder-mystery novels to some kind of a novel with romance set in Greenwich Village. Of course, nothing goes as planned and they suddenly find themselves in a building with a bunch of odd-acting tenants and a stiff in the garden. Soon Jeff decides he will solve the murder so he will finally be able to write an authentic, best-selling murder mystery novel.

Something comes between Loretta Young and Brian Aherne

I watched this one and immediately thought it was a decently cute knock-off of "The Thin Man". They aren't as sophisticated as Nick and Nora, Asta has suddenly turned into a giant turtle and the goings ons are supposed to be a bit more eerie and ends up being more silly, but there are still flavors of a poor man's "Thin Man" in there.

I will be the first to admit that this comes off as a rather silly little movie, but I didn't mind really. I never feel that I have to watch something that should be a contender for the greatest films of all time when I sit down to enjoy a movie. All that matters is that it entertains me and this one did, even if it really wasn't very good. Loretta is so adorable to watch and how many films feature a turtle? Seriously?

I recommend this one as long as you are in for a silly little comedy and keep your expectations low. It is cute, fun and a good way to spend an hour and a half.

The Cabin in the Cotton (1932)

The Blakes are a tenant farmer family struggling to survive and the Norwoods are the sharecropper family that is struggling to keep their power over their tenants. The Blakes oldest son, Marvin (Richard Barthelmess) wants to go to school and educate himself. After a struggle, the sharecropper patriarch Lane agrees to help send him if he works in the store and keeps his books for him. Soon Marvin is torn between the two different allegiances perfectly portrayed by two love interests - Betty (Dorothy Jordan) a tenant farmer's daughter and Madge (Bette Davis) the sharecropper's daughter. As tensions rise between the two factions, Marvin must decide how serve both sides and make peace.

Bette Davis trying to rub off Richard Barthelmess' awful makeup

I have to say that the biggest drawback to this one for me was Richard Barthelmess. First of all, this is another example of Hollywood's obsession with casting old men in parts for young men. Secondly, dear Richard is really from the era of silent film and it screams it in this film given that he is wearing more makeup than Bette Davis. Lastly, I just didn't feel that he was passionate. He was incredibly stiff and kinda looked like an unfrozen caveman barely moving his lips and showing no emotion. He just ... didn't do it for me.

On the other hand, Bette was a complete delight. At first her character seems to be flirting with him just because she is curious and he happens to be around. Given this is pre-code, at one point she strips off-camera to lure him into her bed, saucy minx that she is. This is also the film where she delivers the completely quirky line "I'd like to kiss you but I just washed my hair!" She totally steals this film and blows unfrozen caveman off the screen with her exciting performance.

I really enjoyed this one. Not only because of Bette's not-so-nice girl performance, but the movie is much more. Michael Curtiz really did a great job of lining up some beautiful shots in the compact 78 min run time. The script is really good with the daring social commentary (again, a nice pre-code touch). In addition, there are some interesting music elements mixed throughout. These are the types of movies that I wish the younger generation had someone mentoring them to make sure they studied. Movies like these showcase a time period that is foreign to most current generations and clearly show how hard a struggle it was for basic necessities for many people. When watching a film like this, the hope is one will begin to think about the generations of folks before you whose shoulders are so proudly holding you up even today. At least, that is what I thought about at the end of this movie.

If you haven't seen this one, search it out on TCM - it is definitely worth watching.

Monday, June 22, 2009

These Three (1936) & The Children's Hour (1961)

"The Children's Hour" is a remake of "These Three", but both films were directed by William Wyler. In both films, Karen Wright (Merle Oberon, Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Miriam Hopkins, Shirley MacLaine) open a school for girls in a small town. Karen gets engaged to one of the local doctors, Dr. Joe Cardin (Joel McCrea, James Garner) and trouble seems to follow the engagement. One of the school girls stirs up trouble in the form of gossip. In "These Three" the gossip is that Martha is having an affair with Karen's fiance'. In "The Children's Hour" the gossip is that Karen and Martha are having an affair. In both cases, the gossip spreads like wild fire in the small town and all three reputations, as well as the school, is destroyed.

Shirley MacClaine and Audrey Hepburn in "The Children's Hour"

If you are here, then you are a classic movie fan and probably know the deal about the censorship that forced "These Three" to change what the gossip tidbit was about. I am shocked to say that after watching both, I prefer the censored version, the original. One of the main reasons is the girl that starts the trouble, Mary Tilford, is played brilliantly by Bonita Granville. What a scheming, mean, little wretched girl. However, in the second version, the little girl is a terrible actress and looks like a cross between a lost puppy and a brat. I can't even stand watching her after having watched Bonita rock the role. It is surprising how one weak link in a cast can really do such damage to a movie.

The second reason I prefer the original is the script. In the original, they spend a good bit of time setting up the story about the girls graduating from college, neither having anything to do, so they decide to go to Karen's house that she inherited and look for jobs. It shows them deciding to fix the house and start a school. It shows the awful aunt popping in and out for handouts, which makes more sense about why the aunt is there in the first place. Then it also shows Karen meeting Mary and her Grandmother, with her Grandmother offering to send Mary there and rally some other folks around the school. That helps the audience to understand why they put up with Mary so long and also why when Mary was pulled out of school, everyone else went too. A lot of the background work in the beginning of "These Three" make it a much more even and complete movie, in my mind.

The third and final reason I will mention here about why I prefer the original is the tidbit of gossip. I agree that the movie isn't really about WHAT the gossip is, just what gossip will do to reputations and livelihoods. However, despite "The Children's Hour" being one of the first to start to deal with lesbianism, I am still offended by how it is portrayed as unnatural and an illness. I would rather see the story changed to a heterosexual relationship than to hear the awful way it is handled in this. I understand, it was more than 40 years ago and this was the best they could do then. I really do, but it really is uncomfortable to watch. I am sure it is truthful to the time as to what most thought about homosexuality so it is hard to knock their attempt - I just ... ugh.

Of course, I will say that there are some great things about the 1961 version. For starters, Audrey Hepburn portrays a woman so sweet and so obviously in love. I felt that was an improvement over the 1936 version. No offense to Oberon, but Hepburn radiates love when she looks at Garner in a way that made Oberon look like she was indifferent to McCrea. Also, hands down, Shirley MacClaine blows Miriam Hopkins version off the screen too. I always forget what a great actress MacClaine is. Lastly, one of the best things about the latter version is that it is visually stunning. The cinematography and the shots are all brilliant - much better than the the 1936 version. "The Children's Hour" really worked in some clever angles and it really paid off.

In short, both movies are worth watching, but "These Three" was definitely my preferred version. Mainly because the story feels more complete and there isn't a performance that sticks out as bad. In "The Children's Hour", while I think Hepburn and MacClaine showed more depth and emotion than the previous actresses, the chopping of the script and the absolutely horrid performance by Mary made it a little confusing and somewhat painful to watch.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Midnight (1939)

I have been absent from this blog for a while, sorry about that. I went to Ireland and had a grand time, then I quickly came down with walking pneumonia. The illness is what did it - I had so much fun watching movies without having to turn in the homework assignment of a blog that I have been a movie watching fiend, but not a blogging fiend. I decided it was time to come back and turn in another assignment.

Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris with no luggage and no money. She convinces Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), a taxi driver, to drive her around town while she looks for a job in a nightclub. Coming up ended handed, she flees his kindness and lands a job pretending to be a baroness. Her assignment is to woo and marry the lover of Georges Flammarion's (John Barrymore) wife (Mary Astor) so she will stay with her husband.

Don Ameche and Claudette Colbert get cozy while John Barrymroe looks on

This was a delightful screwball romantic comedy. The script was witty and fun (co-written in part by Billy Wilder, so it should be) and the performances were great. I am developing a bit of a crush on Don Ameche - holy cow, what a cutie! And John Barrymore was very funny without being too hammy or over-the-top in this one.

An example of the excellent script is the exchange between Ameche and Colbert's characters as she tries to explain her past "business" ventures:

Eve Peabody: I landed a lord, almost.
Tibor Czerny: Almost?
Eve Peabody: Well, the family came between us. His mother came to my hotel and offered me a bribe.
Tibor Czerny: You threw her out, I hope!
Eve Peabody: How could I, with my hands full of money?

My only issue, and I swear it isn't her fault, is with Claudette Colbert. I don't know what it is, but I just can't warm up to her. Part of it, I think, is her voice and the way she carries herself. I always feel like she is an 60 year-old woman in a 30 year old body. I am sure this isn't fair, but I always think she carries herself that way. I don't see a spark or much personality emanating from her like I do other actresses of the same period. I know she is beloved so I am sure you guys will have a different opinion and I welcome it. I would love to get over the Claudette Colbert hump.

As a warning, I read that they are in the process of remaking this one starring Reese Witherspoon. So those of you who are anti-remakes (I am in that camp most of the time too) start preparing your groans for the upcoming trailers.

But as far as this one, even with my Claudette issue, this was a delightful film. It was recently released on DVD and is available from Netflix so check it out.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Reservation Road (2007)

Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are on their way home from a wonderful family outing with their two children. A tragic accident occurs when Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) who is also returning home from a wonderful day out with his son, loses control of his truck, and hits the Lerner's son. With a split second to decide what to do, he flees the scene of the accident. The rest of the film is about how their lives are changed, how each side deals with what has happened and if it is possible for either sides to move on after such a tragic event.

The accident happens in the first 10 minutes of the film, so I am not giving anything away there, but much more happens that I would love to discuss, but must stay away from so as not to spoil the twists and turns that make a movie interesting. The first thing that must be said is everyone in this film turns in top-notch performances. My heart broke for the family as this movie played out. Even the daughter left behind played by Elle Fanning (yes, Dakota's little sister) turned in a truly moving performance.

I think it is disappointing that this film wasn't given very much promotion when it came out in theatres or when it came out on DVD. I happened to read about it in the upcoming new releases on DVD and decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did because this is an astoundingly good character drama. I love the way it splits off at the time of the accident, and follows the story of both leads trying to grapple with what has happened. It covers all the themes that are huge in every day life - grief, sadness, cowardice, hatred, responsibility, guilt, love and even forgiveness.

Again, I would love to go into a much more in-depth discussion about this one, but it would be such a disservice to ruin the plot. So if anyone watches this one, post here or email me and we can discuss some of this further. I will say the only downside on this one is that a few plot points, such as where character's lives intersect later in the story, seem contrived. Well, so what? I can employ my hefty suspension of disbelief for a truly riveting story. Contrive on, I say.

When you are ready for a great drama - watch this one. It is very sad and tragic, but definitely an interesting exploration of how tragic events effect us. You will be thinking about this one long after the credits roll. Another recommendation!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Odd Couple (1968)

Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) is divorced and lives in a huge apartment that often hosts Poker Night with the guys. Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) is a part of the regular Poker Night crowd, but something is amiss when he doesn't show up with his usual punctuality. When Felix finally appears, he is distraught because he has been kicked out of his house and his wife wants a divorce. Oscar does the only thing he knows to do which is to invite him to move in until he can get his life sorted out again. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished.

This is one of those that I had seen bits and pieces of throughout the years, but never sat down to watch the whole thing beginning to end. I swear, you can't get better buddies for a buddy movie. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon are great as the bickering "couple". I love movies that simplify the plot to the point that they just allow a couple of characters to exist in a space to see what will happen. That is exactly what this movie is about and the characters leap off the screen for our entertainment.

One of my favorite scenes is when their relationship is wearing thin and Oscar is almost at the end of his rope. He finally lets loose with this rant, "I can't take it anymore, Felix, I'm cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you're not here, the things I know you're gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you 158 times I can't stand little notes on my pillow. 'We're all out of cornflakes. F.U.' It took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!" Hahahahaha! That made me laugh out loud.

Okay, I can't let it go with one favorite scene. I have to add in the bit about Jack Lemmon in the restaurant making that awful noise to try to open his ears. I have to admit, I would have just gotten up and walked out on him, but it was hilarious.

So if you are looking for a discussion about archetypal relationships as they relate to male friendships or something like that, you have come to the wrong place. I can't add anything that hasn't been said a hundred times about this thoroughly entertaining movie. It is an incredibly witty film thanks to the brilliant script by Neil Simon. It is a delight to watch Lemmon and Matthau play off each other. It is a must see comedy, beginning to end, and all those delicious funny bits in between.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mamma Mia (2008)

Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried) is soon to be married and wants to invite her father to the wedding. The trouble is she doesn't know her father's identity. When she uncovers her mother's diary, she discovers her mom Donna (Meryl Streep) had trysts with three men that could potentially be her father. She decides to invite them all (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) to her wedding thinking she will instantly know, just by looking in his eyes, who is her real father.

Cast of Mamma Mia

I expected this film to be a bunch of ridiculous nonsense and it did not disappoint, unfortunately. I can't believe so many stars signed up for such a silly and inane film. Oh Meryl, how far you have fallen from the pedestal I put you on. I have to admit, I watched this for the pure Brosnan and Firth factor. I love them both. Unfortunately, Firth's part was minuscule and Brosnan was made to sing. Which he can't, really, despite being Irish. So it made it look and feel painful - not to mention terribly unsexy. Which made me terribly unhappy.

I can't think of anything positive to say other than some of the Greek Isle scenery was gorgeous. That was probably the best part of the film. Oh, and that the cute young girl, Amanda Seyfriend, was really good even though I think she was largely an unknown. She held her ground against all the star power very well and I was impressed by that. Sadly though, unless you are an uber-ABBA fan or a general musical junkie, I would say this is a large waste of time and would be best left undisturbed on the shelf.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

Nina (Juliet Stevenson) is having a hard time coping with the death of her boyfriend Jamie (Alan Rickman). In fact, she has mostly fallen apart, withdrawing from life, refusing to go out and refusing to take care of every day things at home. While she has many people that care for her, she is stuck in a mire of depression and sees no way out. That is, until Jamie returns from the dead. Their happiness is somewhat short lived when he starts bringing all his ghost friends over and she begins to think that maybe she really does need to get out and start working on building a life for herself again.

Alan Rickman who plays Jamie who plays the cello

This is such a clever and intelligent movie. Again, I kinda loathe a lot of the ghost fare that gets passed around, but this is a great little character drama. Juliet Stevenson does a wonderful job of playing a woman completely arrested by grief and depression, trying to act like she is not. Rickman is wonderful as her ghostly boyfriend. I never knew Rickman could portray a charming love interest?

I really love that this movie addresses the fantasy of what it would be like to have your loved one back after death. This is the fantasy many people have had when they lose someone they love. It also addresses what it might be like for the deceased watching someone they love lock themselves away from the world due to their pain and anguish. If you watch this one, just keep in mind what you think Jamie's true motivation is for coming back and all of it will make sense. It is such a beautiful story.

The one thing that I didn't like about this is the choice of the other love interest, Sandy (Bill Paterson). Nothing against Bill personally, but Nina's relationship with Jamie was based off a love of music and conversations and, well, they fit together. I didn't really see what Nina saw in Sandy. Yes, he was a nice guy, but I didn't feel any chemistry there. Not only that, but I just found him darn annoying. She obviously has to make a choice, but I didn't see Sandy giving Jamie much of a run for his money, even if he happens to be dead. If it had been me, I would have ditched annoying guy for dead guy, but I think that would have ruined the movie.

My favorite scene is available here on YouTube, where Rickman and Stevenson do an adorable duet of the Walker Brothers hit "(The) Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". It is perfect for showing the fun they have together and why they were in love to begin with.

This is a great little British independent film. It is not a comedy so much as a drama, but it does have light moments here and there. It has a wonderful script, good acting and a great director, Anthony Minghella, who actually passed away suddenly and much too young, just like the main character in this film. Wow, another one I recommend. I seem to be on a roll.