Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Crazy Joan Crawford

Films: Possessed
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Say what you want about Joan Crawford and the reliability of the “Mommie Dearest” memoir, the lady could act. There’s lots of good Joan Crawford out there, but for me, the best Joan Crawford is crazy Joan Crawford. And so it was that I was really excited about the possibilities contained within Possessed where she plays a woman suffering from schizophrenia. It was either going to be an entertaining but complete train wreck or it was going to be sublime. The truth, as with most things, falls between those two possibilities, of course, but Possessed is more success in some ways than failure.

The film starts with a woman named Louise Howell (Crawford) wandering the streets of Los Angeles looking for a man named David. She’s eventually rounded up and sent to a hospital where it is determined that she’s got some significant mental issues going on. A little medication later and Louise is ready to recount her life story, which means that the rest of the film is going to be in flashback to get us to Louise showing up in the hospital.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Steve & Steven

Films: Julie & Julia
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

I first started contemplating the 1001 Movies project in the last half of 2009, perhaps a month or so after the release of Julie & Julia. The editor of the 1001 books is a guy named Steven Jay Schneider, which immediately led to a number of people being clever and asking me if I was attempting to replicate the plot of the movie. Honestly, nothing more than a happy coincidence.

Anyway, Julie & Julia is two stories that play out simultaneously. The first story is that of Julia Child (Meryl Streep). This story takes us through a good portion of her life, following her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) on various embassy postings, the most important of which turns out to be in Paris. Wanting something to do, she tries a few hobbies until she decides to take classes at the Cordon Bleu. This leads to her teaching cooking and eventually collaborating on the cookbook that made her famous.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ten Year Reunion

Films: It’s Always Fair Weather
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I started this blog, I was a dedicated musical hater. My position has certainly softened in that respect over the last six-plus years. There are plenty of musicals that I like these days, but it’s still a genre that is more likely than most to leave me cold. When I think of a musical that doesn’t work for me, one like It’s Always Fair Weather is the kind that I tend to think of. And yet there are aspects of this film that really work for me. Does that mean I’m conflicted? Kind of.

We start in 1945. The war is over and a trio of soldiers has returned to New York. Ted Riley (Gene Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey) and Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) show up at their favorite bar for a final night before going their separate ways. As it happens, Ted gets a “Dear John” letter that very night and goes on a bender accompanied by his two friends. They hit club after club and eventually wind up where they started at closing time. When the barman (David Burns) tells them that they’ll forget about each other, they make a pledge to return to the same bar ten years to the day at noon to reunite. The highlight here is a dance number the includes the three hoofing with a trash can lid attached to one foot.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Guildford Four

Films: In the Name of the Father
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There’s a weird little subgenre of films that consist of people being wrongfully accused of crimes, being arrested, and then having to fight the system to prove their own innocence. Sometimes, we get a pretty solid action movie like The Fugitive. Other times, we focus on the lawyers like in A Few Good Men. Most of them, though, are more along the lines of In the Name of the Father about the experiences, botched trial, prison sentences, and eventual exoneration of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. Don’t know them? Well, you probably would if you were British or especially Irish.

Back in the 1970s, Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) was a petty thief in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While the IRA was fighting the British Army, Gerry was stealing scrap metal for money. After a run-in with the police nearly gets him killed and almost starts a riot, his family decides that it’s time for him to get out of Belfast. His father Guiseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) and mother (Maureen McBride) send him off. On the trip, he encounters his friend Paul Hill (John Lynch) also headed to London. Once there, Gerry foregoes staying with his aunt and instead the pair moves into a hippie commune.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Call, Girl

Films: BUtterfield 8
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, an actor has a string of Oscar nominations. It doesn’t always result in a win, but for Elizabeth Taylor, four was a charm. Strong performances from 1957-1959 put her close to the podium but not atop it. She finally got there in 1960 with BUtterfield 8 for a role that she hated and that she was convinced got her the Oscar in a sympathy vote thanks to a nar-fatal bout of pneumonia. By the way, the way I’ve typed the title is not a typo. The title refers to an old-school telephone exchange, and that’s how they were written.

In this case, the phone number in question is an answering service used by Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor). Gloria is the dark version of the following year’s Holly Golightly. She’s a prostitute in all respects except that she refuses to take money for spending time with a man. In the opening sequence, she wakes up alone in a man’s apartment and explores it. She discovers her torn dress from the night before and appropriates a mink coat to wear over her slip. She also finds an envelope of money for her, a fact that offends her and makes her decision to take the mink that much more justified in her mind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Those Middle Commandments

Films: Unfaithful
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There’s something about Diane Lane that bothers me. It’s not that I think she’s a bad actress, because she certainly isn’t. There’s something about her that comes across as artificial to me, though, something plastic. She looks to me like what affluent white women think of when they think of an attractive woman, or the woman they wish to be. I have no explanation for this feeling other than that it’s one I can’t shake. This is relevant because Diane Lane is literally the only reason I sat through Unfaithful. If you think that doesn’t bode well for what’s to follow, you’re probably right.

Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) and her husband Edward (Richard Gere) live a life of the sort that movie producers seem to think is middle class but is actually clearly upper class. He runs a company of some sort and she spends her time fundraising for various charities, they have a massive house in the country, etc. Anyway, the marriage is certainly a loving one, but isn’t very physical, although the presence of their son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) would seem to indicate that they’ve had sex at least once.

Monday, August 22, 2016

I'm an Ape, Apeman

Films: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I remember when Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was released. I was interested in seeing it for the simple reason that I grew up reading a lot of pulp novels. I read a few Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs and a lot of other Burroughs besides. Certainly I was curious. Having seen it now, I’m kind of glad I didn’t see it in 1984. I’m not entirely sure what my opinion would have been. There’s a part of me that thinks I would have appreciated how much it sticks to the actual story created by Burroughs. There’s a larger part of me that thinks I’d have been really disappointed with just how dull the whole thing is.

Yeah, it’s dull. I said it and I’d say it again if I had to. One would think that a movie about Tarzan (which, by the way, he is never called in the entire film) would involve jungle action, fights with wild animals, and all that sort of joy. No soap. Greystoke instead attempts to follow the book as closely as possible, and the first Tarzan book from Burroughs is mainly an origin story, and not much happens beyond learning how Tarzan grew up.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Return

So I'm back...sorta.

We had a lot of things happen all at the same time a few weeks ago, and while all of those issues aren't entirely dealt with, enough of them are that I think I can start posting a little more regularly again. The girls have been picked up from their summer programs, the older child has moved out, school is about to restart for both kids, and I've made it through a couple of absolutely hellish weeks at work. So, I may not be back to a post a day, but I'll be back to more than one or two per week.

Thanks to everyone who stayed with me. Talk to you soon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Nick's Picks: Hanson: Strong Enough to Break

Films: Hanson: Strong Enough to Break
Format: Internet video on laptop.

This is the eighth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Nick Jobe.

One of the most interesting stories in the music world for me is what happened to the band Wilco in 2001 and the years following. They were dropped by their label for producing an album that the company thought was unmarketable. Ultimately, the band released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to tremendous (and deserved) critical acclaim, suffering through people leaving the band and other heartaches. Ultimately, it’s a story of a band’s dedication to their craft and the triumph of artistic freedom and vision over crass commercialism. This is documented in the 2002 film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. How interesting, then, that the same thing happened to another band in the same time frame. Hanson: Strong Enough to Break parallels the Wilco story in a lot of ways. The two movies make interesting companion pieces for each other.

Nick’s relationship with the band Hanson—known almost exclusively for the surprise smash hit “MMMBop”—is one I understand as well. It’s a similar relationship I had with the band Barenaked Ladies. Nick knows about Hanson because his fiancĂ©e loves Hanson. I knew all about BNL because my wife was a superfan of the band for a few years, going so far as to help plan and attend a convention in Canada. So sure, I got why Nick wanted me to watch this. You can’t be immersed in that environment without either imploding or at becoming at least a marginal fan.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Picks from Chip: House of Flying Daggers (Shi Mian Mai Fu)

Films: House of Flying Daggers (Shi Mian Mai Fu)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the seventh in a series of twelve movies suggested by Chip Lary.

There was a time around the turn of the last century when wire fu and wuxia films were a thing. The Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon probably started the trend, which seems to have ended with House of Flying Daggers (or Shi Mian Mai Fu). There’s something dreamy about wire fu films and the way the characters move. I like everything about the style—I like the action, I like the way they are filmed, and I particularly like the kick-ass fight scenes that are filmed in a way that the audience can actually follow the action.

What I was expecting was something that looked a great deal like Crouching Tiger both in terms of visual style and plot. I kind of got that, but kind of didn’t. House of Flying Daggers posits a world closer to Hero in terms of the plot, but gives us a love story closer to Crouching Tiger. There’s a veneer of political intrigue here, a sort of social McGuffin that causes the rest of the plot to happen without really being that critical to the plot that we care about.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Run for Your Life

Films: The Naked Prey
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a difference between a screenplay and a script. Nowhere is that more evident than in a film like The Naked Prey. There’s clearly a screenplay here, but for most of the film’s running time, the only dialog is in a southeast African Bantu language without subtitles. There’s a bit of English at the start and in the final few minutes, but the bulk of the film is done without any speech from the unnamed main character. Remade today, The Naked Prey would be a 90-minute monologue instead of focusing on the survival of the main character.

The man (played by director Cornell Wilde) is a safari guide leading a hunting expedition through an unidentified part of Africa. The man paying for the expedition (Gert van der Bergh) is the epitome of a colonialist, the sort of person who would be easy for the audience to hate on sight even in the mid-1960s. The bulk of his dialog is about how much he’s enjoyed shooting elephants and how he’d like to get started in the slave trade. It’s not too surprising then that when the hunting party meets a group of natives who expect gifts for their chief, the hunter snubs them despite being warned.