Thursday, November 15, 2018

Empathicalism

Film: Funny Face
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Funny Face is a movie that is going to give me agita. I like Fred Astaire; how can you not? I love Audrey Hepburn; how can you not? But who in his or her right mind would want the two of them to be romantic leads in the same movie? When Funny Face was made, Astaire was approaching 60. Audrey Hepburn was a few years short of 30. At one point in the movie, another character complains about the possible relationship—because he’s supposed to be above that sort of emotion and not because he could almost be her grandfather.

Anyway, Funny Face is one of those musicals that is really, really in the style of a classic Hollywood musical. Everyone in the film is an extreme character, and none is more extreme than Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson). Maggie is the editor of a Vogue-style fashion magazine called Quality. Based on her behavior, she’s a good match for Anna Wintour, assuming we can believe the anecdotes in Tim Gunn’s book (and I think we can). She’s the sort of person who would walk into your house uninvited, eat your food, and complain that it wasn’t good and wasn’t what she wanted in the first place. This is not a joke; something similar to this happens in the early stages of the film.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Strait-Jacket

Film: Strait-Jacket
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I haven’t been shy in the past about the fact that I love William Castle and love the cheesy goodness of many of his films. Castle was the king of the gimmick, having moviegoers sign waivers that held Castle and the film legally innocent if someone died of a heart attack from fright in the theater, for instance. With Strait-Jacket, he got his ultimate gimmick: a cheap slasher movie featuring Joan Crawford as an axe murderess with a screenplay written by Robert Bloch, who also wrote Psycho. Having an Oscar winner as your psychopath pretty much voids the need for seat buzzers and ghost viewers.

Strait-Jacket comes directly from the world of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Suddenly, older actresses, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who both starred in that film, were bankable, but not really as romantic leads. This gave use the awesome little genre of hagsploitation, also known by the equally awesome name of psycho-biddy. Essentially, the genre consists of films about crazy older women, specifically women who were once glamorous and have descended into madness.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It All Falls Down

Film: Save the Tiger
Format: DVD from Aurora University through OCLC WorldCat on The New Portable.

According to the legend, when on his deathbed, Edmund Gwenn was visited by his friend George Seaton, who commented that it must be difficult for him. Gwenn is reported to have replied, “Not nearly as difficult as playing comedy.” There some evidence that this is the source of the quote “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” I bring this up because there’s a reason why dramatic actors often don’t do well in comedy but comedians are often really effective in dramatic roles. Case in point is Jack Lemmon’s Oscar-winning turn in Save the Tiger. Lemmon often had a touch of the dark in his comedy roles, but here he is in full dramatic swing, and the results are eye-opening.

It’s also a case where this is a movie that takes place in just over 24 hours. It almost takes place in a single day, but not quite. We start with Harry Stoner (Lemmon), the co-owner of a Los Angeles clothing company. He and his partner, Phil Greene (Jack Gilford, who was nominated in a supporting role) are on the cusp of their latest show and despite the fact that the designer Rico (Harvey Jason) and cutter/producer Meyer (William Hansen) are feuding, it looks to be a very successful line. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the company is going bankrupt. Harry’s biggest worry is an audit that will reveal some very creative accounting. In his mind, the only solution is a man named Charlie Robbins (Thayer David), a professional arsonist, who will burn down one of their factories, giving them an insurance payout. This is something that Harry is keeping from his wife (Patricia Smith), who is headed to New York.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Blue Note

Film: ’Round Midnight
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I always wonder about those cases where someone is Oscar nominated in a debut. Dexter Gordon swung an Oscar nomination for a role where he more or less played himself. It was his first starring role and his first lead role as well as his first role in a feature-length film. This is because Dexter Gordon was not an actor; he was a jazz saxophonist. He happens to be incredibly influential as a jazz saxophonist, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s a part of me that views his work in ’Round Midnight much the same as I view Marlee Matlin’s role in Children of a Lesser God, although I like this movie a lot more.

In the 1950s, Dale Turner (Dexter Gordon) is a talented and influential jazz saxophonist (see what I mean about him playing himself?) who is troubled, to say the least. His main troubles are alcohol and drugs. Wanting to get something like a fresh start, he decides to go to Paris where he played years ago in the jazz heyday. The goal is to play at the Blue Note, more or less under the control of Buttercup (Sandra Reaves-Phillips), who will keep him on the straight-and-narrow until he has cleaned up. So off he goes, unable to get the drink he wants (he’s been cut off pre-emptively at the club), but playing again and playing well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Exorcist II: The Heretic

Film: Exorcist II: The Heretic
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There are a lot of things someone could say about sequels. There are great ones, of course, and terrible ones. There are sequels that were unnecessary and sequels that are inexplicable. Potentially the best sequel ever made is The Godfather Part II, a film that won Best Picture at the Oscars. But what about the worst sequel? There are hundreds of contenders for that title, of course, but Exorcist II: The Heretic holds a unique position. While probably not the worst sequel in history, it probably is the worst sequel in comparison to the original film. The Exorcist is arguably the greatest horror movie in history and objectively one of the five best ever made. Exorcist II: The Heretic is worse than terrible because it attempts to subvert the original film.

The movie initially doesn’t try to do anything untoward in that respect. We’re four years down the road from the original film. We start with Father Lamont (Richard Burton) and a failed exorcism that leads to the death of the young woman being exorcised. Now having a crisis of faith, Father Lamont is asked by his cardinal (Paul Henreid) to investigate the death of Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), who died exorcising Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). Evidently, there are some in the Church looking to posthumously excommunicate Merrin for his potentially blasphemous writings.