Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I've Got My Philosophy

Film: The Razor’s Edge
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Older movies are often preachy. It more or less comes with the territory, and so I try to ignore it whenever I can. With a film like the Razor’s Edge, though, the moralizing happens a lot in the first part of the film. It more or less goes away in the second two acts, but boy is this thing preachy at the start. The good news is that if you can bear down on the film for the first hour or so, it opens up into something that becomes interesting.

Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power, and a part of me hopes that this character’s middle name is also Darrell) has returned from World War I in a deep psychological funk. On the last day of the war, one of his friends died, and specifically died saving Larry’s life. Larry’s existential crisis has led him to a place where he is motivated only to determine what his life means. He’s turned down so potential jobs to “find himself,” which means heading to Paris and delaying his proposed marriage to Isabel Bradley (Gene Tierney). This is all to the good in the opinion of Elliott Templeton (Clifton Webb), Isabel’s uncle. Elliott is not a fan of Larry because Larry has turned down multiple chances to join society and has opted instead to be a much more common man.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Show, Don't Tell!

Film: Enchanted April
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve done this blog for almost six years. I think in that time I’ve earned a bit of credibility in terms of going into movies with enough of an open mind that I like movies that aren’t made for me. I genuinely hope everything I put in the spinner will be a movie that I like. I don’t want to waste my time watching movies that I dislike. So I did go into Enchanted April hoping that it would be closer to my enjoyment of films like Sense and Sensibility and not something that ended up with me shaking my head.

As the last paragraph hints, I ended up shaking my head. It’s a shame, too, because there’s real potential in Enchanted April and a wonderful cast. The story touches on aspects of magical realism, and I love magical realism when it’s done well. There’s something really special about a story that puts the real world in that sort of context. So when it’s done in a way that comes out as half-assed, I get frustrated with it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage

Film: La Cage aux Folles
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

A new quarter at the school where I work begins tomorrow, which means I’ll have a harder time with foreign films again in upcoming weeks. That being the case, it made sense to knock on the one sitting on the table in front of me today: La Cage aux Folles. I hadn’t seen this before except that I kind of already had. I’ve seen the American remake from the ‘90s starring Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, and especially Nathan Lane. That 1996 film is not merely a remake in spirit of this French original. They are very much the same movie.

Renato Baldi (Ugo Tognazzi) owns a transvestite cabaret club called La Cage aux Folles in Saint-Tropez with his partner and star of the show, Albin (Michel Serrault). Albin is not merely a diva on stage; he’s constantly worried that Renato is cheating on him and that everyone laughs at him behind his back. This night is a special one, though—Laurent (Remi Laurent) is returning home. Laurent is Renato’s son, conceived in a one-time heterosexual fling with Simone (Claire Maurier), but has been raised by Renato and Albin as the equivalent of father and mother respectively.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Austen City Limits

Film: Pride & Prejudice
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I genuinely like to give every movie I watch a chance. The best way to be surprised by something is not to go in with preconceived notions of the film in question even if that’s hard sometimes. In the case of Sense and Sensibility, I went in with suspicions and came out a believer. So when Pride & Prejudice, another Jane Austen romantic soap opera showed up in the mail, I was guardedly optimistic. It’s evident that I’m not the target demographic for a costume romance set in the decade or so before 1800, but I’ve been surprised plenty of times before. I had reservations, but I had hopes, too.

And you know what? The hopes paid off. Pride & Prejudice is a pretty good film. Oh, I didn’t rush out and find a copy of any of Jane Austen’s novels to start reading (although I did literally find a copy of the book in a restaurant a couple of hours after finishing the movie—true story), but I think I liked this as well as could be expected for someone who favors horror and science fiction over other genres. I still like Sense and Sensibility more. Part of that is the story itself and part of that is Ang Lee’s superior direction. But I was pleasantly surprised by this all the way through.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Stolen Life

Film: Philomena
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

The movie(s) I watch on a given day are watched from a combination of availability, mood, and the need to remove movies from my various lists. I have a stack of movies checked out from the library sitting in front of me including the last two I need to complete the latest 1001 Movies list. But tonight I was in the mood for something lighter, something that didn’t require me to think that hard. I wanted something I could just sit back and enjoy. At the 1:37 mark, the trailer for Philomena calls it “…a comedy about two unlikely companions.” The trailer is also filled with scenes of Judi Dench being whimsically outspoken and brash. Sounded like the perfect thing for what I was in the mood for.

Philomena is not a comedy. There are a couple of funny moments in it, but all of the funny moments are in the trailer. All of them. In fact, aside from genocide and terminal illnesses, there aren’t a great many topics that are less funny than what Philomena explores. I’ll cut to the chase here early—this is a very good, perhaps even great movie—but it might be the most misleading trailer I’ve encountered this decade.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Norma Jeane

Film: The Goddess
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Kim Stanley had a very strange movie career. Evidently the bulk of her acting work was on stage, so she was only in movies infrequently. Despite this, she still managed a couple of Oscar nominations, and with The Goddess, she may well have been snubbed for a third. In this film, Stanley runs the gamut of emotions including a couple that lean toward the insane.

The Goddess is a sort of fictional biopic of Marilyn Monroe. At least the story seems very much based on her in a lot of ways. Young Emily Ann Faulkner (Patty Duke as a child, Kim Stanley as an adult) is born a few years before the Depression. Her mother (Betty Lou Holland) wants to give her away to relatives because she’s still young and wants to find another man to shack up with. But she bears down on it and gets a job and raises her child, who she completely ignores.