Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Picnic

Picnic I giggle to think that this film is an Academy Award winner, and Stephen has to watch it.

My review and opinions of this film are heavily influenced by the review at http://www.emanuellevy.com/review/picnic-1955-8/

The movie, from moment one, struck me mostly as something culturally authentic. I don't mean authentic like gritty, or documentary (of course, Hollywood his its own kind of realism), but in the styles and attitudes of the time. The hairstyles reminded me of my grandparents.

Like the fifties, this film watered down a stereotypical community into archetypes, and then filled them with all the anxieties of an age. That's A LOT of anxiety, and they all express quite well (well, quite a lot, anyway). But we can see the general concerns about education, an awareness of looksism just in its infancy, and every single female desperate for some kind of truce in the gender wars (which women lost badly in that decade).

I'm not sure if the ending was happy or sad, but it's definitely indicative of a forward motion. Madge sends the final moments spinning toward hope, rather than mal-forming her future to fit conventions of the past, or in reaction to her own mother's fear. I saw genuine positivity, rather than simply assuming good only if she married Hal, and resting on that uncertainty.

William Holden played a fascinating character here. Not his usual suave playboy, Hal boasts, jumps around, shows off, and generally doesn't act his age (I believe the actor was thirty-seven in this picture). I still admire the skill and energy he put into the role.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Love in the Afternoon

Love in the Afternoon This black-and-white film about an aging American playboy who becomes interested in some French jail-bait had the script, but not the amusement factor of Daddy Long-Legs. The lines were great, and Maurice Chevalier especially delivered them perfectly, but my interest and belief waned severely in the final scenes.

Although the scene at the train-station was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and certainly calculated to make the little sympathetic heart go pit-a-pat, Audrey Hepburn's acting showed there its greatest inconsistency.

During the film, her character has Gary Cooper's character completely fooled; he knows she's a little vixen - a woman of the world, and yet, suddenly she's unable to find the strength to keep back a few tears as he leaves Paris? It's implausible, and a little frustrating to those of us who wanted to enjoy the ending.

Still, Rottentomatoes gave it an 80%. We shrug.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Devil and Daniel Webster

The Devil & Daniel Webster - Criterion Collection Another Tomatometer 100! This film begins slowly (I have always hated watching train wrecks, and with the Faustian overtones, undertones, and middle-tones, what else could it be?), but when we hear Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) give his brilliantly expressive (albeit only marginally legal) speech to a jury of the damned, we begin to understand the awe in which our ancestors held this historical figure. Unfortunately, this film may be the only link anyone now has to the legend of Daniel Webster.

The story revolves around a friend of Daniel Webster, as he sells his soul for seven years of insane prosperity, and then panics when the payment comes due. Anyone with student loans understands his dilemma, but despite this, Jabez Wilson (Webster's friend) has long been out of the audience's graces. He has devolved into an addictive, unfaithful, and cruel man with a bad temper. We almost don't understand why Webster would defend him, except for the sake of Jabez's unendingly angelic wife, Mary.

Although some of these relationships make the plot seem typically (for the era) naive, some of the effects in this film, and some of the acting, feel quite innovative. The film won a very prestigious award for its musical score, as well, which I applaud.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

I watched the new version, where they added sound. It's an Inde-remake, and although I sensed some homage, and a bit of sincerity, I'm afraid I didn't feel anything real in the film.

The story revolves around a young man who tells his experiences with a sideshow act - Dr. Caligari and his fortunetelling somnambulist - linked heavily to a string of local murders. It's a psychological tale with some creative sets, but not a lot of real art. I'll be watching the original eventually, and I'm hoping to see something more visually stimulating, but I hold out little or no hope for the plot.

Pink Panther 2

Pink Panther 2 This simplistically titled sequel to a remake actually kept my attention and made me laugh out loud. Although, much like the originals, huge moments made me turn away from the screen in sympathetic embarrassment (this is NOT my favorite genre), I found the whole thing largely funny, with a pleasantly ironic aftertaste.

John Cleese's presence made entirely too much sense, if you recall that one of his greatest roles (Basil Fawlty) had exactly the same tone.

I feel that critics too often disregard these after-movies, tossing them off as derivative (but intentionally so!). Largely, these critics make sense, and after-movies should probably be illegal. Most sequels, remakes, etc. simply waste the viewer's time badly retelling an already over-told story. Not so here. Occasionally, the second out-ranks the first, and although this likely isn't that time, the second certainly ranks well in with the first.

This cast is golden, and all actors lived up to their reputations. I'm glad Steve Martin et al. made this film.

I have to admit, though, I knew whodunnit from the moment that actor walked on screen. Good thing this film wasn't about suspense.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dean Spanley

DEAN SPANLEY I wasn't expecting that.

Although you can read almost the entirety of the plot in the back of the case (or the blurb at IMDB.com), moments came as a complete surprise. I was never quite sure of the characters, as back-stories blurred, and acting became more nuanced and complex.

I tell you, I think the case is badly done. All that white makes it feel like a comedy gone wrong, when this film is much more of an Edwardian period-piece (much along the same vein as Enchanted April (1992)) than a comedy, or scrooge story. The characters were less dynamic, and more . . . emergent?

I cried. Should I admit it? Although the premise is sublimely ridiculous, the story itself overflows with warmth and interest. Be patient. Grab your knitting. Stick it out. This film is worth it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels: The (The Criterion Collection) This has long been one of my absolute favorite films. Not only does it comment on the American habit of happy endings (in the context of the Great Depression) but it manages to find a great middle ground itself. The ever-brilliant Preston Sturges (known for his light comedies) directed (with pieces of his stock cast) this ironic story. Joel McCrae and Veronica Lake filled out this wonderful romp. Otensibly, this film explores the ultimately vain attempt of Hollywood to connect (identify?) with an audience that they should instead be entertaining. The main character tries again and again to suffer like the people for whom he has been creating fluffy fantasies, so he can make a truly meaningful film about them, only to fall back on his luxuries. Finally, he gives up, and that's when the adventure really begins.

The result is an experience that makes you smile and think at the same time, which is quite a feat.

Trivia: The deep, social commentary director John L. Sullivan (McCrae) is attempting to research is to be called "O Brother, Where Art Thou." (sound familiar?).

If you can handle B&W, this is a must-see.

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair (Widescreen) This colorful and amusing adaptation of a colorful and amusing book by Thackeray actually felt like a well-balanced interpretation. Although the beginning of the story leaned very much in favor of our young heroine from the cover, some of her more questionable decisions emerged by the end.

Of course, in the hands of a Hollywood storyteller, a snarky satire emerged as a warm and nuanced piece of dramatic literature. It is to be expected. We like our medicine with lots of sugar.

All-in-all, it's much better than I thought it would be.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chicago

Chicago (Widescreen Edition) I miss Bob Fosse. I miss Joel Gray and Ben Vereen and Ann Ranking.

These guys aren't bad, though. They really fill the screen, and live up to the director's demands. As a film, this one stands strong with both critics and the audience, and well above average at that. The spectacle sparkles. Scenes in the dreary prison pass quickly, and with plenty of pizazz, so the camera moves quickly from gray cells into the visually flashy songs.

At this point I must mention that I found the scene-jumping during musical numbers both fascinating and frustrating. It seemed analogous to the main themes of the movie, though.

My real problem came with the innocent girl's hanging. I sobbed for her, and the irony, and the tragedy. But the movie spent ZERO time grappling with that idea, and used it entirely as a motivation for Roxie (Renee Zellweger) to capitulate to her lawyer's controlling demands. It all makes sense that the one serious moment would drown in the spectacle (it reinforces the irony), but like the poet and the sun, the moment of truth, of rebellion against an oppressive system, ultimately only serves to uphold that system, not to arrive at somewhere real.

Rob Marshall did his work well. Both critics and audiences laud the film still, but I'm still clinging to the painful irony.

Kismet

Kismet [VHS] Three dreaded words. . . Pan and scan. Ugh! How could they do that to Vincente Minnelli!? Anyway, while I'm forgiving the eighties, I'll mention that although the music is pretty good (some songs better than others). My real complaint, now that I'm old, is that the sets, costumes, and characterizations fit a more cartoon interpretation of the Arabian Nights. I'd love to see something a little more historically faithful (although realistically, the Arabian Nights, as translated into English, were pretty cartoon-y anyway).

I really enjoyed the dancing. The skill and choreography really were fantastic. The colors did their typical Minnelli thing, screaming from the screen (although not all of them made complete sense. For instance, Howard Keel spends several scenes looking like he's wearing (nay, popping out of - that guy had quite the chest) red long-johns).

It has come to my attention that I overuse parentheses. Hmph.

Anyway, the story has some fascinating ideas about fortune, good and bad, and wisdom vs. foolishness. Check it out if you've ever read Arabian Nights.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia My little sister turned this on today, and I was forced to watch, because it was either that, or get motion-sick watching my Portal avatar fall through an endless series of holes in an endless series of test chamber 14. I turned off the monitor and watched the movie.

As predicted, I finally regretted it. Although the acting shone, from all parties, the story itself just felt flat. I admired how the writer admitted that it was no happy ending, but felt truly frustrated that she couldn't admit that Julia was finally correct. The publicizing of her project as a bid for her own fame hid at its core some cutting disrespect. Julia Child may have been a public figure for many years, and a legend in her own right, but that doesn't make her free game for shameless exploitation, even if that exploitation is couched in the most adoring terms.

I also realized that although I truly admire Ms. Streep for her superb talent, I don't actually enjoy watching her. I bet she's murder on the stage, though. I bet she's worth hundreds a seat. Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams, and Jane Lynch all performed above my expectations (and I've got some pretty high expectations for all three of them).

Julie (Amy Adams) was unlikeable. If I can't like the main character, how am I to enjoy the film? The flimsy "romantic" tension felt more like PMS (from both genders). Perhaps they should have spent more time on the food.

Honestly, if you want a great cooking movie, watch Mostly Martha. It's got everything, and some cooking tips.

M

M - 2 Disc Special Edition - (The Criterion Collection) This cinematic masterpiece truly blew me away so thoroughly that I'd feel comfortable slinging that kind of cliche in a blog that my snobby little brother might read. It started a little slowly, but as my brain warmed back up to the language, the film warmed up as well, and began moving. I realized soon how pointed the political commentary was in something as simple as a camera angle (it took me hours of pondering to come to that conclusion). Although the politics can be shunted to side-note status, the crime-fiction angle really caught my attention. I watch crime drama on television almost obsessively, and I've read mystery stories since I ran out of good Fantasy novels (it didn't take more than about five years). The moment the boardroom scenes opened up into real action, I suddenly realized how ground-breaking a film I was watching, and how completely these ideas have rooted deep into the Hollywood psyche. My eyes actually widened in shock.

This film was Fritz Lang's first talking film, and certainly master material already. Rottentomatoes.com reports a whopping 100%, although audiences stick it at around 96, which just makes me giggle. If you read through the reviews, though, it's almost as if these professionals are trying to critique Shakespeare - they feel as if they MUST rate Lang highly, but seem to focus on irrelevancies, or leech off of things some other expert has said, like they're afraid to say what they really think, lest they be found wanting in the exchange. I was amused.

Peter Lorre's performance was pretty typical of Peter Lorre. You'll see nuances, and energy, and something nearing sympathy from a character drawn starkly as a child molester and serial killer, but you won't see any facial expressions you didn't see in Arsenic and Old Lace. Come to think of it, Lorre's performance in that particular film really had a lot more depth than was strictly necessary (an assessment I have adjusted since seeing M).

If you don't speak German, resign yourself to haphazard subtitles, but resign yourself nonetheless. SEE THIS MOVIE.

Hot Lead & Cold Feet

Hot Lead & Cold Feet Tell me you didn't just adore this Disney treat as a child! Any fans of the luscious Jim Dale MUST naturally adore this flick as well. Mr. Dale actually plays three roles (two brothers and their father), and they have a strong supporting cast. Although the plot wasn't much to write home about, it was significantly more original than almost anything you'll see coming out this summer.

This movie will always rank at the top of my favorite Disney list, a list which also contains such gems as Tron, The Moonspinners, The Three Lives of Thomasina, and any of their horror titles. It's just fun! Honestly, the humor's a bit slapstick, and the acting is more to amuse than truly conquer any sense of skepticism, but I still enjoy watching the movie, although by the late seventies, when this film was made, Disney had gotten to the heathen state where they quite obviously removed any religious references from a film whose main character is a preacher. I'm sure it was a challenge, but Disney was up to it. Maybe they'll rot in hell, but this is still a fun few hours.

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for AlgernonThis beautiful, if somewhat overly sentimental, film kept my attention, and had a smooth, predictable story arc that nevertheless explored the nuances of that arc, rather than allowing the possibly unexciting plot to simply stand alone as the source of interest. The film's exploration of human emotion and experience, although noticeably naive, also held some profound truths. I looked into it, and saw pieces of myself in a flawed mirror. If you have the patience for this kind of drama (if you, for instance, saw and enjoyed Awakenings), you'll want to see this as well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall

Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall [Region 2] This odd, M*A*S*H-esque film actually felt a lot more controversial. Although it's popular to protest Korea and Vietnam, it takes a hard and confident person to show disapproval for World War II, knowing what we know now about the Holocaust. Nevertheless, Spike Milligan's autobiographical story (in which he makes an appearance as his own father), starring the heartthrob Jim Dale, proceeds to show his absolutely non-conformist attitude towards his draft.

I understand, I think. Like the title says, it's more about one person's role than the whole conflict. Milligan doesn't mean to protest the war, only his personal and complete unsuitability for the soldier's life. Along the way, the wit and comic amusement are practically epic. Although a few moments here and there turn the war from a farce back into a war, the good-natured irony continues steadily, making this film a great experience generally, and if you know anything about British comedy, it's a MUST SEE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Get Smart

Get Smart (Single-Disc Widescreen Edition)I recently decided that action comedies are my favorite kind of film/television, and although this movie didn't fulfill all of my idealistic action-comedy demands, it certainly went a long way towards that. Steve Carell was really funny, and I thought Anne Hathaway finally found her niche (I know she wants to do period dramas, but her style and abilities do NOT suit that genre. To be frank, I just don't think she's good enough).

Moments, broad moments (nothing pointed, satirical, or particularly witty) made me laugh out loud in sheer delight. Some allusion had that effect (walking on water? A man in a tree. . .), and not much of the physical comedy did (Steve Carell's body double has adorable buttocks, but once you've seen Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother, there's no way you could beat that (well, bending over might have helped)).

Using Dwayne Johnson as the *spoiler alert* surprise, twist bad-guy was a brilliant idea. The juxtaposition from his usual role worked well in this sense, giving the film a great sense of balance and unity.

All-in-all, I wouldn't at all regret killing another hour or so on this film, but I'd probably keep my knitting nearby. It wasn't killer-cerebral, but it was interesting enough for good, solid entertainment.

Eloise at the Plaza

Eloise at the Plaza This flick felt very retro to me, at least at first. The romance was trite, and felt tossed in for convention, rather than any actual directorial interest. The themes and sub-plots all seemed that way, actually, as if the director couldn't decide on anything important, or his heart wasn't in the work (which I don't dispute. It's not really a heart kind of film).

As a film adaptation of a rather simplistic childrens' book, though, this movie did just fine. It's cute. It has some very humorous moments, and some real kid-appeal. I found nothing truly objectionable unless you really want your children to be brainwashed into college.