Saturday, February 28, 2009

W. (2008)

This is your life, George W. Bush! This is a satirical retrospective of the life and political career of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin). It shows his path as a young man that generated all sorts of troubles for his family, then becoming "born again" and rising to Govenor of Texas and eventually landing the head job at the White House. All of the key players are here: Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss), George H. W. Bush (James Cromwell), Laura Bush (Elizabeth Banks) and Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton).

Movie Poster

I expected this movie to be a complete smear job on Bush. I mean, come on, it was written and directed by Oliver Stone and who isn't easier to make fun of than our former president? I have to say that Stone showed a tremendous amount of restraint here. I wasn't sure that I could stand an entire movie about grinding one man into the ground. No matter how much he might truly deserve it. I was surprised that Stone made his point, but didn't really pull any dirty punches. In fact, Stone did a tremendous job of actually humanizing Dubya. Bush is portrayed as an average Joe with good intentions of leading his country and making his father proud. Unfortunately, he simply wasn't competent for the job and he wasn't insightful enough to realize that small fact. Bush had Cheney in the background pulling the strings to make the puppet dance while the megalomaniac (Cheney) plots to take over the world's oil supply. Given his self-serving, corrupt administration, Bush was doomed to fail and he was too incompetent to even realize he was being used. It really is enough to make you kinda feel sorry for the guy. Kinda. That was quite the surprise coming from Stone.

I was also glad to see Colin Powell somewhat redeemed as the only sane voice that spoke up against a war without any proof of WMD, even if he later caved to do what the administration wanted him to do. That was an important point to add in and Stone did show that in the movie.

The performances, for the most part, were really amazing. Josh Brolin did a great job and had everything about Dubya down. He did a brilliant job. I was amazed by how they took Thandie Newton and literally turned her into Condi. Her looks and mannerisms were riotous. I think my biggest casting/performance disappointment was James Cromwell as Daddy Bush. He just didn't seem to fit at all. I don't know what they were thinking behind that choice.

Political satire, especially in a biography format of a figure so recent, is really hard to pull off. I didn't expect this to work as well as it did. I couldn't believe they actually made me feel sorry for Bush, but they did. Well, a little. They also took all this heavy material and turned a good part of it into entertaining satire that was actually interesting and funny. This movie was really well done given all the ways it could have gone wrong. I definitely enjoyed watching it, but I don't know if everyone would. The lefties will probably find it amusing and surprising how they feel about Bush as a person, afterwards. The righties will probably just get angry. Given that guide, follow your gut as far as if you should watch this one or not.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Women (1939) and (2008)

A group of socialite women is shocked when one of their own, Mary (Norma Shearer) (Meg Ryan), is being stepped out on by her husband. Mary is unsure if she should confront her husband about the affair with the shop girl, Crystal (Joan Crawford) (Eva Mendes) or keep quiet about it till the storm blows over.

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell in the 1939 version

I had misaligned expectations when I watched the original. I knew it was an all female cast, but that was about all I knew. I mistakenly was super excited about seeing a film that is all about girl power since this is a film made by women, obviously, for women. Instead, it was a bunch of hens who were delighted by each other's misery and even more delighted to gossip about said misery. I realize that is how women are stereotyped, but I really hated seeing that portrayal. It was a bit disheartening and made me have a hard time "enjoying" the movie.

Of course, having said that, the performances were really amazing. Norma Shearer was a wonder as the hurt wife. Rosalind Russell as the biggest hen of them all, without any loyalty whatsoever. Joan Crawford was delightful as the uber-bitch mistress, totally unapologetic about her role in the whole mess. I don't mind some women being shown as catty, because there really are some of them out there, but this film would have you believe the whole lot of us are like that and can't be trusted to be a true friend. That really made me uneasy about the whole film. I really should have enjoyed it for what it was probably, but somehow, I think I misplaced my funny bone.

Annette Bening, Meg Ryan and Eva Mendes (along the bottom) for the 2008 version

Fast-forward to the 2008 version, and my biggest disappointment is corrected. Instead of spending the entire movie tearing each other apart, they are supportive of each other. Instead of Sylvie (Rosalind Russell) (Annette Bening) sending Mary into Saks on purpose to find out the truth about her husband like in the original, she tries to prevent that from happening. It really is nice to see that change about how the women were portrayed.

The problem in changing that is that you really did lose something. The actresses didn't stand out as much in this version. The break-neck speed that I love in older movies, is slowed way down for the new version. The acerbic wit is mostly toned down because they aren't as bitchy now, and I really did love the wit of the original. Also, Eva Mendes, though seriously smoking hot in this, will never be the uber-bitch that Joan played so deliciously in the original. Joan's wicked performance in the bath tub scene was perfect in the original. Plus, at the end when Debra Messing is talking and she says, "and I am sorry I can't stay here long" I was already screaming at the TV, "PLEASE don't let it be a rush to the hospital labor scene with all the labor room antics. I am so sick to death of those scenes in romantic comedies!" Well, you can guess what happened there. So you can guess I really didn't enjoy the last 10 - 15 minutes of the remake.

So I realize I am totally talking out of both sides of my mouth on this. Why can't the updated one have the fast pace and the razor-sharp wit of the first, while retaining the theme of women friends actually WANTING the best for each other and supporting one another? You may wonder which one I liked better? If I had to rate the two, I would definitely have to say the original was a better movie, hands down. However, if you ask which I enjoyed more? Probably the remake, and that is pretty sad for me to say. I think you definitely need to see both and draw your own opinions.

For another take on it, please read Jenny's brilliant take on the original, as compared with another modern day chick flick, the Jane Austen Club. Check it out here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Central Park (1932)

Two down-on-their-luck depression era people, Rick and Dot, meet and have an instant spark in Central Park. The vow to meet later that day. Dot (Joan Blondell), somehow gets mixed up in a supposed sting operation while Rick (Wallace Ford) gets kidnapped for his involvement with Dot. Add to that an escaped lion as well as an escaped lunatic zoo keeper and you have the makings of a zany drama.

Lobby Card for Central Park

This is only 60 minutes long and packs a ton of plot into that short time. For most movies I would applaud brevity and packing it in, but in this case I felt like it was a bunch of stuff thrown together that never really had time to resolve. I mean, by the end the big plot is resolved, but you end up with a quick scene to resolve the lion and then policeman making a side comment about the escaped lunatic. Why even bother, really?

Also, I really disliked the fact that Rick goes through all this trouble to rescue the girl. He finally gets to her and is like "Oh, hi, yeah, I am an idiot so I am going to go chase the bad guys. Take care of yourself." Okay, he doesn't actually SAY that, but after his sole motivation was to help the girl, when he gets to her, he doesn't stay with her to see if she is okay and protect her? What ever happened to chivalry? He isn't in law enforcement, he is an out of work guy, why on earth would he steal a car and start chasing bad guys when there were like, a zillion policemen there?

So that is what I didn't like about this one. What did I like? I loved Joan Blondell. She was a dream in this - I loved the snappy way she cracked out that dialogue. I also loved that she really seemed to be one of those women who could take care of herself. I really enjoyed watching her entire performance.

I also liked seeing Guy Kibbee as a policeman that is integral to the plot. I liked seeing him because it proved to me he was a good character actor and not the true idiot with the fluttering eyelashes like in "The Dark Horse". He was such a good actor in "The Dark Horse" that he had me convinced he must be an idiot, but apparently not.

I recommend this to any movie buff out there. It is always good to see these early films and see directors and actors try to sort out their crafts and this business of making movies. I love pre-code so that is a bonus too. For the average movie goer that is just wanting to dip their toes in early movies, I would give a huge list of other pre-codes to watch before this one. This one isn't bad, but didn't really sparkle as a great example. However, it is a good one to watch for us die-hards out there. :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tall T (1957)

The other day I mentioned this wonderful Western, but it occurred to me that I never actually did a review of it here. Well ... time to fix that oversight.

As Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) puts it himself, it just isn't his day. He loses his horse in a bet and when he catches a ride on a stagecoach, it gets robbed by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) and his ruthless gang. It turns out that one of the other passengers, Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan) has a rich family and the gang decides to hold them all to try to collect a ransom from her father. From that point on it is a cat-and-mouse game between Brennan and Usher as to who will out smart the other.

Randolph Scott and Maureen O'Sullivan get close in a cave

I loved so many things about this great little film. First of all, it is terribly suspenseful with great characters, great performances and great scenery. It holds the audience's interest from beginning to end. I love that Randolph Scott was nearly 60, still looking great, and doing these kinds of roles that called for a raw physicality and he pulled it off. I mean, he was still a Grade A movie star - what an amazing actor. Plus, him and Richard Boone toying with each other, that is a big part of what makes this film such a success. Without two great performances there, this would have been a flop.

It was unusual for me that I found myself actually kinda liking Frank Usher, a little bit. He plays a bad guy who holds everyone else to a certain moral code, which is interesting. He doesn't like the other members of his gang because they are ruthless and stupid. After watching Mr. Mims basically give away who his wife is in hopes of saving his own skin Usher says, "That boy puts his wife on a stake and then wants to kiss her goodbye. You figure me that one?" Later, he goes into the place they are holding her, brings her a plate of food and covers her up gently. From that, you have to believe that there is some kind of humanity in there somewhere and you wonder if it will win out in the end. He is not your average bad guy and I liked the added complexity. Like I said, you almost wanna like him.

I should say, "Nights in Rodanthe" should take note of my favorite scene. The hot kissing scene. Randolph Scott grabs Maureen O'Sullivan with his hand around her neck, whips her towards him, then teases her as if he is going to kiss her, pulls back and finally plants one on her. Wow. "Nights in Rodanthe" could have used some of that chemistry. I tell ya, Randy still had it going on.

Plus, as if everything else isn't already great about it. This movie happens to have one of my favorite last lines. After Randolph Scott and Maureen O'Sullivan have gone through this terrible ordeal and are finally safe, she is crying and trying to pull herself together. They both barely cheated death and as they begin to walk away he says, "Come on now, its gonna be a nice day." That is such a great line for the end of the movie. It is such a great little Western. Definitely add this one to your list if you haven't seen it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nights in Rodanthe (2008)

Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) is a woman at a major decision point in her life. Should she reunite with her philandering husband or stay the course on her own and endure her kid's disappointment if she doe not allow him back? To give her time to think, she agrees to take care of her friend's inn so her friend, Jean (Viola Davis) can take a vacation. She only has one guest to attend to at the inn, Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere). It is quickly discovered that Flanner is at a turning point in his life as well and the two bond over their shared disappointments and future decisions.

Richard Gere and Diane Lane in a love stare down

I really wanted to like this movie. It is an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel and I have liked those in the past. "The Notebook" is a favorite. Plus, I am all for any movie that shows the over-40ish movie actors carrying a romance flick. I think older actors should be given more opportunities in movies to have a strong romantic story and carry some box office power. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like this one, I really didn't.

I like both Richard Gere and Diane Lane. I think they are both great actors and I think they gave fine performances. My problem was how the story lumbered along for most of the movie. It took quite a while for Flanner's storyline to be presented. Even when it was finally presented, it still seemed rather confusing and convoluted. Also, the two of them falling in love seemed so contrived. Maybe I am a sucker for the necessary meet cute? These two just seemed to be pushed onto each other and with a hurricane raging outside it seemed more like, "Well, why not?" than real love. Almost more like an act of desperation and that is never fun to watch.

After their weekend in Rodanthe, they began writing letters back and forth to each other and that is the minor bright spot in the movie for me. I enjoyed watching Adrienne running to the mailbox and ripping open the letter and devouring every word. I love the art of letter writing and I think it is a shame that no one puts pen to paper anymore, especially for wooing.

The bright spot of the letters is short though and the amount of time it took to get there, and then the dreadful part afterwards just doesn't make it worth the effort. The only thing this movie sold me on was that men should write love letters more often and I should go visit the Outer Banks region sometime as it looks interesting. I think I would have rather seen more of what Viola Davis' character was doing on her vacation (at least that looked hot) than what was going on in her absence in Rodanthe. So, I would give this one a pass unless you are into slow tear-jerkers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation (1962)

Roger Hobbs (James Stewart) thinks a romantic getaway with his wife, Peggy (Maureen O'Hara) would be ideal when he calls her to tell her the news. By the time he gets home, their romantic getaway has turned into a family reunion after she has invited their entire brood to a month-long vacation. Even worse, their rental turns out to be a dilapidated house on the beach complete with tons of family issues.

This was a delightful family film. My Mom had a great love of family films since family was what was important to her and she easily passed that love on to me. Stewart and O'Hara both give great performances (duh) and the situations they get themselves into are absolutely hilarious. Stewart's dry wit is so subtle in this one that I caught myself reacting belatedly to the joke and having to rewind so I wouldn't miss anything. Even though he is older in this, he is still great with his presence and physical comedy too. Watching him do the bird-watching walk alone is enough to leave anyone in stitches.

The script didn't disappoint at all with important sub-plots that underscore the serious side to marital and family relations. All the while, the tone of the film is kept light for that summer fun feel. That alone is a very difficult trick to pull without being too corny on one side or too glib on the other and it is done brilliantly. Stewart's crackling repartee and sarcastic jabs keeps the audience on their toes and tells them everything will eventually work out okay. A couple of my favorite quotes include Hobbs telling his wife, "We got one consolation. In the whole history of the world there has never been a child brought up right." Or Hobbs talking to a very attractive girl on the beach and he explains his brood includes grandchildren. As his wife steps out, looking gorgeous as only Maureen O'Hara can, the girl says, "That's a grandma?" Hobbs slyly replies, "36-26-36 and still operating."

I will keep this one short by saying this is delightful. It is a family film that instead of being geared for children, as most are today, is geared more towards adults. I think that is something that I miss in a lot of the more recent family films. If you get a chance, check this out as I am pretty sure the whole family will enjoy watching it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

Nick (Michael Cera) is a high school guy who is infatuated with an ex-girlfriend, Tris (Alexis Dziena). He keeps trying to win her back by making mix-tapes and she keeps tossing them. One of her high school friends, Norah (Kat Dennings), keeps retrieving them and wondering why Tris won't have anything to do with a guy who could make such an awesome mix-tape. Tris ruthlessly teases Norah about not having a boyfriend so Norah lies and says she does have a boyfriend. She grabs the nearest guy at the time and tells him to act like her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she grabs Nick, Tris's ex. Thrown together in a strange circumstance, they end up spending all evening trying to find a band they both love as well as locate Norah's drunk best friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor) who has gone MIA.

Kat Dennings and Michael Cera

I read and re-read that synopsis and I swear it doesn't sound that interesting. I must tell you though that this was such a funny, sweet and adorable movie. It kinda reminded me of "Say Anything" without all the tension and drama. I think it is because of the theme of music as a secondary character in both movies and also because Kat Dennings could totally be Ione Skye and Michael Cera could totally be John Cusack. It is a great little film without the raunchiness of a lot of recent comedies, but also not sappy as most chick flicks. It is just a lot of fun.

As for the performances, all of the performances were great. Michael Cera is just so totally adorable and Kat Dennings is perfect as a beauty with brains that somehow guys don't seem to see how awesome she is. I don't know how anyone could miss that. All the secondary characters are great as well, especially Ari Graynor as the drunk girl. They all work to make the movie more interesting.

Personally, I loved seeing mix tapes still being used as a relationship tool as portrayed in this movie. Now, the younger generation has their fancy iTunes and it is easy to make a mix tape, er CD. They don't even have to work hard to produce one. Even though they have it easy, I am STILL glad to see it in use. :-) I can't be the only one with a serious love for this? Right? There was such an art to the mix tape and we all believed that if the mix tape was good enough, it would surely convey all our love to the recipient and they would have no choice but to love us back. *sigh* Follies of youth. I loved the nostalgia the film gave me.

Some of my favorite quotes are as follows:

Tris tormenting Norah, "You could totally have better luck with college guys. That's when guys really get into stuff like how smart a girl is, you know? It's not all about looks."

Thom, Nick's friend, pulls Norah into the van and gives her an underwire bra so she can change out of the sports bra the she is wearing for some inexplicable reason. He says, "Nicky is definitely worth the underwire."

There wasn't anything that I didn't enjoy about this movie. The script was comical, all the actors were great and it was very entertaining. I loved the use of "Nick and Norah" for the names, even if Norah wasn't spelt correctly. :-) Of course, there were a few parts that I had a hard time believing, like Caroline not using her cell phone to try to call for help. Or that a high school boy would walk away from a hot girl like Tris when she is doing a sexy dance for him. Horomones would have shut his brain down quicker than he could have said "Norah". Those few areas where suspension of disbelief didn't work certainly didn't hurt the film though. I highly recommend it when you are in the mood for something light and funny. It is definitely a fun one.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rings On Her Fingers (1942)

Susan Miller (Gene Tierney) is a department store sales girl who dreams of the good life. One day a rich couple visits the store and soon she is whisked away to exotic locales with them.Why? They need big fish and she is the bait - the couple are con artists and she is now a part of their scam. Unfortunately, John Wheeler (Henry Fonda) is at the wrong place at the wrong time and falls hook line and sinker for Susan Miller, who is now Linda Worthington.

Lobby Card for "Rings On Her Fingers"

This is a cute little Cinderella story. A quote from Gene Tierney's department store sales girl character sets the tone of that nicely with, "I guess we were just born on the wrong side of the counter." I really enjoyed seeing Henry Fonda again since I have developed sunch a fondness for Fonda. :-) Gene Tierney did well and my goodness, was she a beautiful woman or what? She filled out that bathing suit quite nicely too. Henry Fonda's character remarked in the film, "If you didn't have a face like that our quarrels would last a lot longer!" I bet they would, indeed. The supporting cast of the con couple, Laird Cregar (who was surprising agile for a large man) and Spring Byington, played it so charming and devious. So the actors were all great - no issue there with this one.

The downside of this one is that we have seen this story many times. Frankly, we have seen a better screenplay of this acted out many times. There is nothing original or clever here. This is another classic example of really good performances propping up what would otherwise be a very mediocre film.

Luckily, the performances do prop the film up and make it a very enjoyable. It is not outstanding, but very enjoyable. If you find this on TCM and have time to kill, give it a shot. It is pretty shallow as films go, but fun. :-)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grab Bag O' Movies

I have watched several movies lately that I either couldn't think of a good way to write a movie review for them or I just didn't want to write about it. So, instead, I thought I would do a quick drive-by type movie synopsis/review of these movies.

The Bank Job (2008):
From Netflix: "Based on a true 1971 event, this thriller tells the story of Terry (Jason Statham), a car dealer who becomes involved in a London bank heist only to find that the contents of the bank vault will draw him deeply and irrevocably into the city's criminal underbelly. Murder and scandal abound in this tale of corruption populated with a surprising mix of offenders, from low-level thugs to government officials and all the way up to the royal family."

This one was my favorite of the bunch. However, this had so many twists and turns that it would have been hard to do any kind of a review without really giving the movie away. I thought this would be a typical Jason Statham action movie with constant action, but it wasn't. It was much more than that and I definitely recommend this one.

Premonition (2007):
From Netflix: "A housewife (Sandra Bullock) is devastated when her husband (Julian McMahon) dies suddenly in a car crash. But when he reappears the next day as if nothing had ever happened, she realizes it may have just been a premonition. Can she prevent the horrible tragedy from happening all over again, or is she powerless to redirect fate? Amber Valletta and Nia Long also star."

I didn't really like this one. Again, I would have had to lay out the entire movie to review this one just to tell you why I didn't like it. I thought they were going a clever way with the idea of "if you knew someone had betrayed you and you had the opportunity to save them, would you still?" That was intriguing to me. However, they hinted at that theme and then twisted it again and went a different way. Bullock's performance was great - it was good to see her do something more meaty than romantic comedy. However, it was just not very satisfying with the mixed themes and confusing plot and, well ... it was just a mess.

My Best Friend's Girl (2008):
From Netflix: "When Dustin's (Jason Biggs) girlfriend, Alexis (Kate Hudson), breaks up with him, he employs his best buddy, Tank (Dane Cook), to take her out on the worst rebound date imaginable in the hopes that it will send her running back into his arms. But when he begins to really fall for Alexis, Tank finds himself in an impossible position. Alex Baldwin and Lizzy Caplan star in this romantic comedy from director Howard Deutch (The Whole Ten Yards). "

This was another one of those guy oriented romantic comedies. I really hate this trend in movies. However, this was better than "Forgetting Sarah Marshall". I had problems with "My Best Friend's Girl" because I kept finding Dane Cook charming one minute and completely irritating the next. Plus, I didn't really buy Kate Hudson's character or Jason Biggs character. Given that, they still had some funny scenes and I loved the location shoot of this in Boston. They made Boston look amazing and since I love Boston, I loved seeing a love story to the great city in this film.

Crank (2006):
From Netflix: "Hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) tears through the streets of Los Angeles in a race to save his own life and his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart) in this ticking time bomb of a thriller. The freelance killer is poisoned when a mob job goes wrong, and the clock starts ticking when Chelios learns he can elude death if he keeps his adrenaline pumping. With no time to waste, Chelios rampages through the city hoping to save Eve and find an antidote."

This one was such an odd one. It was much more of the typical Jason Statham movie that is action, on time and all the time. It was odd though because the premise and the situations are so ludicrously implausible that it was more like a Wyle Coyote cartoon where Wyle falls off the cliff, but is chasing the road runner 5 seconds later. So if you can implement a high suspension of disbelief for this, it is fun at times and seriously action-packed. If you can't, you will just keep repeating "Come ON - No WAY that is possible!" the entire movie.

I admit, this is the laziest blog I may have ever done, but there you go. Enjoy the fruits of my laziness. I would rate these movies from best to worst as (best) "The Bank Job", "My Best Friend's Girl", "Crank" and then "Premonition" (worst). Anyone seen any of these and have an opinion to share?