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!