Monday, April 27, 2015

This Might Leave a Czar

Film: Anastasia
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

A while ago, I commented on just how good 1935 was for Charles Laughton; the man was in three movies nominated for Best Picture, one of which won. That’s a hell of a good year. Yul Brynner had a good year in 1956. He walked away with an Oscar for The King and I and acted across from Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar-winning performance in Anastasia. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m prone to like Yul Brynner in general. I’m not sure if it’s the bald head, the piercing stare, or the Mongolian-tinged accent, but I’ll watch him in just about anything.

Anastasia is epic in everything but length in the sense that this is massive, sweeping story about history and romance with any number of plot twists. And like many an epic, this is a story deeply involved in Russian history. It seems impossible to touch on any aspect of Russian history without the story becoming something massive, at least in tone and scope. Anastasia tells one of the great myths of Russian history post-revolution. It’s well known that the family of Tsar Nicholas II was killed by the Bolsheviks, but there was also the story that the tsar’s daughter Anastasia somehow survived the slaughter. What then would happen if Anastasia Nicolaevna had survived?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hail to the Chief

Film: Primary Colors
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

There are a good number of political dramas on the various Oscars lists that I’m watching. I don’t generally seek them out, but Primary Colors is one that I actually saw in the theater. I remember it; my wife was about five months pregnant with our first daughter and I was pretty much willing to do anything to keep her happy. This is the first I’ve seen it in 17 years, and yet I remember specific things about the film. That bodes either good or ill, depending.

Fortunately, it bodes pretty well. I remembered Primary Colors favorably, and I liked it on this watch, too. This is more or less the story of the governor of an unnamed small Southern state running for president in the 1990s. The governor, Jack Stanton (John Travolta) seems to connect well with the general population. His wife Susan (Emma Thompson) is emotionally damaged but tough. He appears honest, caring, and forthright. He’s also an inveterate womanizer with scandals bubbling up, allegations of drug use, and was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. In other words, this is more or less the story of the first Clinton campaign without it being specifically called that overtly.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dog Days

Film: Bolt
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

I went into Bolt specifically with the thought that I probably wouldn’t like it a ton. This was a film that had to win me over. While there are certainly exceptions, Disney animation went through a dark period, and some of those movies (see Brother Bear, for instance) were, well, pretty awful. Even a lot of good non-Pixar Disney films suffer from being flatly predictable throughout. So Bolt very much started out as “I need to check off this box” instead of a film I was looking forward to seeing.

After an initial problem with the DVD, I settled in and ironed a bunch of shirts while I watched. Bolt follows the tried and true “plenty of make believe, but be true to yourself” Disney fable, in this case pretty literally—more literally than usual, in fact. We start with an introduction to Penny (Miley Cyrus before she went all “former Disney star” crazy), who gets a new dot from a pet shelter. We learn that this dog, Bolt (voiced by John Travolta during scenes without humans), has been given a variety of super powers by Penny’s father to protect her against his nemesis, Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). There’s a solid action sequence of Bolt and Penny avoiding Calico’s many minions and a quick primer on Bolt’s powers.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Caught in a Bland Romance

Film: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I was of two minds going into Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. On the one hand, I like William Holden in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in, so that’s on the positive side. On the other hand, it also stars Jennifer Jones, who I’ve never liked much and who always comes across as wooden on screen, at least in my opinion. I figured this was going to be pretty drippy, but I’m willing to put up with a lot for the sake of William Holden. Anyway, I needed to watch it sooner or later.

Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is Eurasian. While being of mixed race in Hong Kong in the post-World War II years is not specifically a problem, miscegenation is an issue. Eurasians are not quite Asian and not quite European, but are considered far more Asian than European. Cavorting with Europeans is fine socially but not romantically. So, of course that’s exactly where we are going to go here with the arrival of Mark Elliott (William Holden), an American journalist currently stationed in Hong Kong. Things are complicated by Mark being married but separated, adding an additional and unnecessary complication to the budding romance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Film: My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I probably shouldn’t enjoy My Big Fat Greek Wedding nearly as much as I do, but it’s an easy film to like. Romantic comedies are a genre that tends to leave me cold, except for those rare few that manage to truly be both romantic and funny. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of those rare films. There are plenty of things here that are genuinely funny and moments of genuine sweetness that come across as honest rather than manufactured. That’s a rarity, and it’s special when it happens.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a massive hit when it was released, and is currently the second-highest grossing independent film in Hollywood history (Paranormal Activity eventually beat it). There’s a reason for that, and I can only imagine that a lot of its business was repeat viewings from people who enjoyed it the first time. I’ve liked it every time I’ve seen it, too. It’s not only entertaining on a first viewing; it holds up well, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another Boring Knight

Film: Ivanhoe
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Because of my regular Friday posts, I tend to look for times when I can complete a particular Oscar category in a particular year. That’s the sole reason I watched Ivanhoe today. This isn’t one that I wasn’t looking forward to for a very specific reason: Robert Taylor. I have consistently found Robert Taylor to be so utterly dull that he makes Franchot Tone look like Captain Charisma. He’s bland on a saltine cracker. He’s Blandy McBlanderstein, and anything that stars him starts with a strike against it in my opinion.

Ivanhoe is essentially the same story as The Adventures of Robin Hood from a completely different perspective. So, while there’s still a Richard the Lionheart and still a King John and even a Locksley, most of the other familiar characters—Maid Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John—aren’t a part of this at all. Instead, we’re going to see the story from the perspective of Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), a Saxon knight who accompanied Richard on the Crusades. On his way home, Ivanhoe discovers that Richard has been imprisoned and that the asked-for ransom is 150,000 marks of silver. Worse, since Richard’s brother John (Guy Rolfe) is usurping the throne, there is no plan to pay that ransom and return Richard to England.