Monday, August 30, 2010

If a Man Answers

If a Man Answers

This film was remarkably amusing. The acting was certainly adequate to the task of a light comedy, and the scenes had a sort of fluffy chemistry that kept me laughing. Although this 50's flick makes a good attempt at equality between newlyweds Chantal (Sandra Dee) and Eugene (Bobby Darin), I still felt the ending erred on the side of the female, balanced only by the portrayal of vamp Tina (Stefanie Powers). If the film had been more about individuals, I'm not sure I would have worried so much about the battle of the sexes, but as it stood, the male and female characters seemed to line up into teams - the mother helping her daughter, and the fathers helping their son, each gender keeping secrets and using strategies against the other.

The coloring and camera style smacked strongly of the fifties, and I felt a little as if I'd stepped into some thick fantasy in chiffon and chintz, but that seems to be a characteristic of the age/genre.

As a relative feminist in some areas, seeing a woman treat her husband like a dog appalled, even though it all seemed quite reasonable in the film. Truthfully, it's possible that wives treat their pets better than they treat their husbands, hence Dr. Laura's book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands: The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands
A revolutionary book in this age of gender inequalities and misinformation.

The idea of intentionally making a man jealous also seems unusually cruel, although Sandra Dee played it with sensitivity, and Bobby Darin took it like a man. Again, I recommend this film for fifties fans.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Much Ado About Nothings

Much Ado About Nothing Much Ado About Nothing / New York Shakespeare Festival (Broadway Theatre Archive) So I'm screening four different versions of Much Ado, and so far, these are my least favorites. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish the second one at all.

The good bits of the first include that moment at the end when the two admit publicly that they're in love. The performance was nuanced and believable.

My favorite version so far is still the BBC with Robert Lindsay. Unfortunately, it's only available on VHS from my local library. I'll keep the blog updated on my progress. I shall be screening a fourth filmed version which I've never yet seen. This should be interesting.

Shadows in the Sun

Shadows in the Sun

The humor caught my attention. So did the really great car, and the lovely scenery, which according to imdb.com, is really Italy. Not one of the filming locations included California or Toronto, which is nicely refreshing.

Tragically, it's supposed to be about a genius writer, but the director/writer made the mistake of trying to be his character. The writing lacked brilliance or memorability. The example of a description of a sunset disappointed. Although the writing was certainly above average (if spelled correctly), it wasn't anything to write home about. It was the kind of thing you imagine being taught in an evening creative writing class at your local community college.

Fortunately, the film didn't have the budget for a sex scene, so I escaped that piece of tedium. The whole film seemed so tragically blase! I feel truly sad for all that, because I loved the actors, and enjoyed the story very much, I just felt cheated, somehow, as if spotting the canvas texture under a recently purchased oil and realizing that my purchase, while beautiful, wasn't original. This "print" (of what I am not sure) is certainly still good enough to hang in one's home, but not valuable enough to leave as an inheritance.

The better moments, which include most of the humor, largely avoided cliche. The worst moments included an amateurishly executed (or filmed) tango, and that piece of bad writing that made me so unutterably sad. Rottentomatoes.com gave the film 20%, which I thought was probably generous of them. Still, I'd recommend it, if only for the parts that were well done. And I have no problem recommending bad movies, because I'm a fan of learning by experience.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Call Me Madam

Call Me Madam This forgotten classic has a really amazing cast, including Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen, and George Sanders (a personal favorite), and if you can fast-forward through the long, boring, Irving Berlin ballads, it's a very fun movie. The dance numbers were great, I'm just not a fan of melodramatic love songs.

Donald O'Connor is always brilliant. His dancing and singing are quite up to par in this film, and his character, while a little small for my taste, shows intelligence, taste, and slight self-deprecation, as well as some courage.

Poor Cosmo, though (George Sanders) was forced to smoke a cigarette just to have something to do while Ethel Merman belts out another ballad. And I'm certain his voice was dubbed. I'm not going to bother to look that up. I love the guy anyway.

Anyway, if you're a fan of musicals, you might give this one a try.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Man Godfrey

My Man Godfrey [VHS] This lovely remake caught many of the best aspects of the original (1936 Oscar nominee), and is difficult to judge purely on its own merits, especially as the original was such a favorite.

David Niven truly does capture a very proper sophistication that strikes a true chord. He proves himself a man of unusually sound moral character, and it doesn't hurt his image that the character has a probably aristocratic family history.

June Allyson plays the slightly mad younger daughter almost believably. She's possibly a little old for the role, but her body type and acting ability compensate. The actress who plays Cordelia, her sister (Martha Hyer), is very beautiful, and puts Ms. Allyson into something of an unpleasant relief.

This film is older, and the colors have faded a little, making the whole thing seem a little drab. The contrasting scenes could have been used much better in a kind of visual symbolism, but they weren't. Sad. The set builders could really have done a better job. The costuming was adequate.

I think this film is simply too new - too much newer for my taste. I prefer the thirties and early forties, with its extravagance and more natural lines, and it's rawness. The fifties were too posed and artificial for my tastes. I shall try to find a better example of David Niven's cinematic skill.

City of Ember

City of Ember I think this film contained some real quality, and developed profound imagery, but without really garnering the charisma necessary to make it shine. I want to blame the book, and ultimately the author, but since I haven't read it (sorry) I'll keep my finger pointed squarely at the film.

I think the idea of a tiny city buried for two hundred years away from some nameless apocalypse sounds fascinating and full of Dickensian potential, but I don't think that the characters inside this city really shone. I think the people were much too realistic (and yet culturally disproportionate) for the idea.

I felt a little moved by the idea of the ancient machinery with a hidden purpose. I felt the slightly religious overtones, and generally approved. It felt exciting to see that particular revelation, although some of the ironic tension caused by an early introduction of the countdown box could have been a little frustrating, or counter-productive. It felt a little like being shown the Statue of Liberty in the opening scenes of Planet of the Apes, and then waiting an hour and a half for the characters to catch up. Wouldn't it have been so much cooler if the audience could have at least briefly imagined a world in total darkness, even if they didn't believe in it? Isn't that what fiction is supposed to do? Even people who didn't believe The Village was as distant as the movie proclaimed still had a few moments to see things as the villagers would have.

Tragically, the profundity of the final scenes only reveals itself in retrospect. In those few moments when the three children despair and sleep, the audience, again with the dramatic irony, knows that they just have to wait for the sun to rise. But the audience has not been fully prepared for the depth of this particular image, so it comes across more like a motif along with other darkness and light references making the experience of watching the film somewhat less immediate.

The acting left little to complain about, except perhaps a few moments when Bill Murray's natural humor alleviated necessary tension. The movie itself did not contain enough time for complete explanations, and instead left some unsightly holes in the movie's internal coherence. I'd have to read the book to fix them, I assume.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ten Little Indians

Ten Little Indians Isn't the cover truly atrocious? It's just as bad as the previous one. The movie itself startled me in a couple of different ways.

Firstly, I could have sworn from reading the book as a child that the Indians were supposed to be from India, not Missouri. Well, I can live with that. We Americanized the story like we do everything else.

Secondly, the music was bright and springy. I felt truly disturbed listening, fully expecting an ending with a cast all corpsed. I should have taken the era into account. A noir film may have ended with all ten party members dead, but would it have included Stanley Holloway? Perhaps.

Thirdly, snow. I know, it's not a complete sentence. Eitherhow, I remember the book being set on a small island during a storm. I think that might have been a little more dramatic (and a little more cliched) than a dinner party on top of a snow-sparkling mountaintop. I remember one version, though, set in the middle of a desert. I think I enjoyed that one in my own schadenfreudisch way. I think I fear the desert much more than I fear snow. Snow, like a good concealer, brightens things, covers imperfections, and smooths wrinkles. It may be fake and transitory, but it's pretty.
Maybe snow would have been cooler if there had been more fake blood splashed around. This film is B&W, so Hitchcock's classic chocolate syrup would have done just fine, if they could have gotten it to splatter realistically.

Anyway, the acting lacked depth and subtlety. The kittenish sex-scene was thankfully brief. The characters were classic and stereotypical. It was a great nostalgia piece, but not anything to write home about, cinematically.

The Invasion

The Invasion This movie, apparently a more positive remake of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers,  has several things in its favor for the general, female audience. Both Daniel Craig and Jeremy Northam give passable performances (acting in a film full of stepford-zombies is a tricky proposition for anyone), and Nicole Kidman gets in on the indomitable mother-love fun. Always a crowd-pleaser.

Truthfully, though, the film resonated unpleasantness from the nasty brain-eating slasher previews to the distrust and misery in the final pseudo happy-ending scene. Nicole Kidman's acting was better than, say, the opening third of Australia, but worse than her playful Moulin Rouge. Boys may enjoy an early scene in which Kidman does a Meg Ryan/catwalk strut commando under her pyjamas. I found it a little nauseating. I suppose my socio-economic background calls for granny-panties. The strut is probably what irritated me. I don't like Meg Ryan either.

A few nit-picky points include unrealistic marksmanship (Kidman, while holding a gov-issue glock in one hand and without seeming to aim at all, manages to pick off five antagonists with as many kill shots, and hit Craig squarely on the knee), bitter and disappointed politics permeating the background, and the virus spreading through some truly unpleasant vomiting into other people's drinks (and mouths. EW!).

Moments of the movie truly frightened (more than just the germophobes, I mean), and the post-modern in medias res beginning and subsequent bouncing around did help keep up the tension and suspense. The only real issue I have with the camera work was how frustrated I became after the fifty-seventh Kidman Close-up in a row. Some variety would have been nice. (I know - maybe I'm just bitter because I'm ugly). Anyway, at least her hair followed a realistic timeline.

If you like this genre, I'd say spend some time and analyze it yourself. If you're a girlfriend looking to survive a cozy evening, though, steer your boy towards something a little more palatable, like Silence of the Lambs.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I'll Be Seeing You

I'll Be Seeing You Okay, I really do not enjoy watching Shirley Temple, in ANY of her incarnations (perky teen OR precocious tot), so I'm going to ignore her.

The appeal of this film remains elusive through most of it. Ginger Rogers's acting seems wooden, or even stony until we realize that her portrayal was accurate, and her restraint admirable. She could easily have slipped into histrionics (the script did allow some few words) or flirtatiousness. When the audience realizes this, it also begins to realize the profound psychology of the whole film. The most memorable moment includes a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a panic attack brought on by acute PTSD.

I was stunned and appalled by the callousness with which the minor characters treated Mary (Rogers). After the list of her own mental anguishes becomes completely revealed, it's no wonder she acts broken. The poor girl is stuck in a prison, more trauma, to compound her already damaged psyche. I pity the age that did not yet understand mental illness, nor how to treat it properly, and I am awed by the ignorant kindness they showed anyway. Even when they obviously did not understand the extent of her unwellness, Mary's family still gave her the patience and understanding she would have needed. It was a different time.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Sorry, Wrong Number . . . and DEATH!!!
So, laughably, began this intriguing story. Although the film itself is deeply noir, and the soundtrack and camera styles all shout 40s, the style of its telling shifts distinctly into what some might name post-modernism. The tension begins, as the film, in medias res, followed by a series of long flashbacks from different perspectives brought on by various telephone conversations. Through these (very dime-novel) conversations and the revealing flashbacks, the audience slowly begins to understand the increasing tension until the final, seriously noir ending.

The characters in the story, acted by Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster, are distinctly unlovable. They're protagonists without being either heroes, or anti-heroes. They have flash, glamour, and personality, but not anything larger or enlightened. Even the character actors in smaller parts struggle to make their characters anything more than just people doing their thing, which seems to ground the film and give it depth. It's almost reverse psychological.

rottentomatoes.com gave this movie a whopping 86%, putting this film well into the top few I've seen there.
The film is dated and awkward in moments, but still well-directed and acted; a sordid story well-told.