Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quaker State

Film: Friendly Persuasion
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

What is it with Gary Cooper and Quakers? In High Noon he marries a Quaker and in Friendly Persuasion, he is a Quaker. The most interesting thing about the Quakers isn’t that they eschew music and dancing, but that they are total pacifists. So, naturally in films that involve them as major characters, the entire point is to put them in situations where violence becomes an option and possibly a necessity. That’s certainly the case with Friendly Persuasion.

Jess Birdwell (Cooper) is a Quaker farmer who happens to be married to the local Quaker preacher, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire, who looks rather remarkably like Michelle Pfeiffer). Eliza, as the preacher, is more than a little dedicated to the Quaker ways. Jess, however, is not. There are also temptations aplenty for their three children: Josh (Anthony Perkins), Mattie (Phyllis Love), and Little Jess (Richard Eyer). The film starts as a light-hearted comedy as these four, particularly Jess, strain the limits of Eliza’s good nature by rebelling in minor ways against her Quaker preaching.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What a Girl Wants

Film: La Vie d’Adele—Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Color); Wadjda
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix (Blue) and DVD from NetFlix (Wadjda) on laptop.

I’ve lost track of the number of times on this blog that I’ve talked about the way that coming-of-age films work. Typically, a coming of age story for boys involves coming to grips with mortality. Boys, at least in a serious coming-of-age tale, need to confront death. For girls (and for boys in comedies), coming-of-age stories are about sex. Girls need to come to terms with their ability to create life. This is one of the reasons I’ve put off watching La Vie d’Adele—Chapitres 1 & 2 (much more commonly known as Blue is the Warmest Color) for as long as I have. Why else? Well, it’s three hours long, and I’m not always down for that.

Blue is the Warmest Color is not really about that, though. Oh, don’t misunderstand—this is very much a girl’s coming-of-age story and it doesn’t skimp on the sex. So, while the film is very much about sex, it’s far more about sexual identity and personal identity than it is purely about sex. I do feel like I need to throw a warning out there, though; this film is rated NC-17 for a reason, and the bulk of that reason is about 15 combined minutes of sex. This isn’t movie sex—it’s sex. If they faked it, I have no idea how they did it. Honestly, I think they did it by not faking it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Plea Bargain

Film: …And Justice for All
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

When you talk about actors in their heyday, you have to hand it to Al Pacino in the 1970s. The man did a lot of good work in that decade. I’m not going to take that away from him. In fact, I’ll even credit his work in …And Justice for All, because it’s a solid 1970s Pacino performance, perhaps even vintage. The problem here is just about everything else. Okay, the cast is solid. But the plot has real issues and the music, especially at first, is terrible.

A quick summary of the film would go like this: an honest lawyer who genuinely believes in the power of the law slowly realizes that the entire system is corrupt from top to bottom. He discovers this during a series of cases that all go bad in different ways but go bad for the same reason. In the end, he has to decide between his job and his conscience, and since this is a film about the law and lawyers, that decision naturally happens within the confines of a courtroom.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Beloved Monster

Film: Shrek
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

So it’s time for another strange admission of my children’s relationship with some animated films. When she was little and Shrek was a current film, my older daughter was terrified of this movie. Specifically, she was terrified of the scene where Shrek gets shot in the posterior with an arrow. For whatever reason, it freak her out, which means we didn’t watch Shrek much when she was little. I have no explanation for my children.

Well, that and the fact that our disc of Shrek has been missing for some time. I’ve been cleaning out my office for the past two days, and guess what I found. It’s like Christmas in September around here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Greed is Great

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew when The Wolf of Wall Street showed up in the mail from NetFlix I was going to have a difficult time watching it. This has nothing to do with it being a movie I didn’t want to watch. Actually, the opposite is true; I tend to like Scorsese and I tend to like Leonard DiCaprio. No, the issue here was that I knew going in that there’s a lot of sex and drugs in ths film, which means that I can’t watch when my kids are around. Through no planning on my end, I got the house to myself for a chunk of time today, and I took the opportunity to watch.

My guess, as happens with films like this one is that most of my readers have already seen this, which means a short recap so as not to bore anyone. This is the story of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a Wall Street trader with a fortune in the bank and a serious lack of control over his various appetites—that’s the sex and drugs from the previous paragraph. We see his rise and fall as a trader twice. It’s the second rise, filled as it is with shady dealings, cheating, massive amounts of drugs (seriously, Tony Montana doesn’t do this much blow) and wanton sex with virtually anything that moves, that takes up the bulk of the film.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No Innocents in War

Film: Two Women
Format: DVD from Freeport Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

When I deal with rarities, or at least films that are difficult to find, I take what I can get. In the case of Two Women, this means being forced into a dubbed version of the film instead of the version in the original Italian. I’d rather watch a film in its original language, but given the difficulty of tracking this one down, well, a dubbed version is better than nothing. It does make me wonder, though, why this film is so difficult to find. Sophia Loren won the Best Actress Oscar for this in 1961, the first time the award was handed out for a non-English performance. It would have been nice to see it in the version that was awarded.

I knew pretty much what I was getting into when I saw Vittorio De Sica’s name flash across the screen as the director. That name means neo-realism and a plot that doesn’t go anywhere happy. Expecting a Vittorio De Sica film to be happy for anything more than a few minutes at a time is like expecting a Busby Berkeley dance number in the middle of a Hitchcock film.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Viva, Las Vegas

Film: Bugsy
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

With a biopic, particularly one of a shadow figure like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the main question to ask is how true to history it actually is. With Bugsy, I honestly have no idea, but I’m also not sure I really care. Ostensibly, this film is about Benny Siegel, but in reality, it’s about the birth of Las Vegas as a desert Mecca. Vegas as a resort was Siegel’s brainchild, and more or less, this is what the film shows. That this is ultimately a tragic story is both the point and beside the point.

What I find particularly interesting here is the name of the film. The nickname of Bugsy was used only by people who had some distance between themselves and Siegel, at least according to the film. If we take the screenplay as gospel, Ben Siegel hated the name and wasn’t above violence for those who used it in his presence.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Film: Coming Home
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I did a little investigating on Coming Home before I watched it. Based on the story it tells, it’s not really a huge shock that the story comes from Jane Fonda’s association with Ron Kovic, the Vietnam veteran whose story became Born on the Fourth of July. There are some similarities here, both on and below the surface. Fonda, of course, was an activist against the war, as was Kovic. It’s hardly a shock, then, that our main male character her is a Vietnam veteran, in a wheelchair, and an active anti-war activist.

We start with two stories only slightly separated. Luke Martin (Jon Voight) is a paralyzed war veteran trying to recuperate in a VA hospital. We’re introduced to him briefly before we spend some time with Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) and her husband, Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern), who is just about to be deployed to the war. Off the captain goes, along with his friend Sergeant Dink Mobley (Robert Ginty). This introduces Sally to Vi Munson (Penelope Milford), Dink’s girlfriend and soon to be Sally’s friend, roommate, and confidant.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Westward, Ho!

Film: Ruggles of Red Gap
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

When you talk about good years for actors, you need to bring up 1935 and Charles Laughton. In that year, Laughton had a major role in 25% of the Best Picture nominees. Not impressed? After all, in a year with five nominees, anyone with a prominent role in one of those movies is in 20%. Yes, but in 1935, Laughton had major roles in three out of 12 nominees. And “major roles” undersells it. He was top billed in two of the films and second in the third. I’ve now seen two of those films, and for my money, Ruggles of Red Gap is the one you want to see.

The premise is simple. The awesomely named Marmaduke Ruggles (Laughton) is the manservant of the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young). One evening, the Earl is instructed in the fine art of poker by some visiting Americans. Long story short, he bet Ruggles and lost, which means that Ruggles is now in the employ of the loud, uncouth, and garish Egbert Floud (Charles Ruggles). This is important news for Effie Floud (Mary Boland), who wishes to become the queen of the social register in their little town of Red Gap, Washington.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

And We're Back

Film: Resurrection
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Films that have strong religious content are always interesting from my perspective. With Resurrection, we get something of a poser. There are definite religious implications with this film, but the film refuses to actually take us all the way there. However, it’s impossible not to have religious implications in a film where our primary character is gifted with the ability to heal people with a touch. I’m not exactly sure where this review is going to go because my thoughts are still coalescing on this film, so I’ll be interested to see where we end up.

Edna (Ellen Burstyn) buys her husband a sports car for his birthday. The two of them go out for a joyride. During the drive, a child runs out in front of the car and, while swerving, the two drive right through a fence and over the side of a cliff, smashing on the rocks below. My first thought here was wondering why there was such a flimsy (think white picket) fence as the guard for a massive drop off into the ocean, but that’s neither here nor there. Edna’s husband does not survive the crash, but miraculously(!) Edna does, although she does die on the operating table for a few minutes. During these minutes, she has visions of the afterlife, which include people who have died and lots of lights and fog. Y’know, the traditional stuff.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jezebel, Part Two

Film: Mr. Skeffington
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m always curious and a little excited when I locate a piece of Bette Davis’s filmography that I haven’t seen. Sometimes you get Now, Voyager or Jezebel. Then again, sometimes you get Mr. Skeffington. I chose those two films to mention here in comparison with Mr. Skeffington with reason. I bring up the brilliant Now, Voyager because, like today’s film, it co-stars the great Claude Rains. I referred to Jezebel because the character played by Bette Davis in that has a lot of resonance with the character she plays here. The problem is that both of those films are vastly better than this one.

Fanny Trellis (Davis) is the socialite to end all socialites. As the film starts, she is hosting a dinner party to which a group of suitors individually show up early in the hopes of some alone time with her. The only person she’s really interested in seeing is her cousin George (Walter Abel). The person she is not expecting is Job Skeffington (Claude Rains), who happens to be the boss of her brother, Trippy (yes, he goes by Trippy, and is played by Richard Waring). It seems that Trippy has not only burned through the Trellis family fortune in a matter of a couple of years, he’s also managed to embezzle some $24,000 from Skeffington, which is a large chunk of change, especially a hundred years ago, when this takes place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Band Practice

Film: Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are two basic kinds of musicals. There’s the type where everyone in the movie sings his or her feelings at various times and the story is moved forward in large part by the music and lyrics. I often have a verisimilitude problem with this sort of musical, but I can deal with them if the movie itself is good enough. Singin’ in the Rain is a prime example of this sort of musical and perhaps the greatest example of the style. The other sort of musical is, more or less, a musical about musicals. All of the characters are performers and the songs tend to be less about the current emotions of the characters but are instead a part of a show they are performing. Alexander’s Ragtime Band, the film in question here, is of the second sort.

As with many a musical of both stripes, Alexander’s Ragtime Band begins with a meet-cute between all of the members of our eventual love triangle. Society child and musical virtuoso Roger Grant (Tyrone Power) scandalizes his family by pursuing fame in the realm of ragtime rather than classical music. He and his band, including songwriter and pianist Charlie Dwyer (Don Ameche) have a try-out at a nightclub, but have forgotten their music. They spot a song called “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and play through it, not realizing that the song belongs to singer Stella Kirby (Alice Faye). Hearing her music playing, she jumps on stage and sings, and the group is hired, but only as a complete group, meaning that Alice has a band and the band now has a singer. And, thanks to the song, Roger Grant is now dubbed Alexander and the band has a name.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nick's Pick: Naked

Film: Naked
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is the ninth in a series of monthly reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

I went into Naked with some amount of trepidation. I know this is a film that Nick has a great deal of respect for. Were I a bigger bastard, I would suggest that Nick’s main reason for liking this film is the presence of David Thewlis, who was a major part of the Harry Potter films. In truth, Naked reminds me of a great number of films I’ve seen in the last few years. This is a film that is more or less about nothing. It’s a character study, and the entire thing turns on the performance of the actor in that role. As it happens, in this case that one role is played by Remus Lupin the aforementioned David Thewlis.

I’m not being glib when I suggest that this film is essentially without a plot. Loser Johnny (Thewlis) starts the film in the most unpleasant way possible—the film opens with Johnny in the middle of a sexual assault. This is a theme that will come up multiple times in the film—it’s not the only time that we see him demonstrate his penchant for violent and unpleasant sex. To avoid any potential legal problems with what was, essentially, a rape, Johnny heads off to London to look for his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp). He doesn’t find her right away—instead, he finds Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). The two spend the afternoon having sex, at least until Louise gets back.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Upper Class Twit of the Year

Film: The Ruling Class
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

There are few movies that set a tone as firmly and completely as The Ruling Class does in its opening 15 minutes. In those first minutes, we are introduced to the 13th Earl of Gurney (Harry Andrews), a judge, who proposes a toast to the awesomeness that is England at a large gathering. He then returns home and speaks to Tucker (Arthur Lowe), his butler, while tossing aside his clothing. We learn here that all of the Earl’s sons have been killed one way or another overseas, which means he must remarry despite his more advanced years, thus providing an heir. Then, out of nowhere, Tucker provides the Earl with a silk noose, which he hangs over the bed. The Earl dons an admiral’s uniform and a white tutu and proceeds to asphyxiate himself in a piece of sexual oddity, but eventually slips off the ladder and hangs himself accidentally. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s twisted, and it sets up the rest of the film as well as can be imagined.

The sudden death of the 13th Earl leads to the introduction of Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney (Peter O’Toole), the 14th Earl of Gurney. The problem is that Jack is completely insane, having been institutionalized for the last eight years. Specifically, Jack believes he is the human incarnation of Yahweh, he is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Upon becoming the Earl, he trades out his coarse monk’s robes for a white suit, but keeps the Van Dyke and the flowing locks and sleeps standing upright on a cross, his hands firmly gripping a pair of nails.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Off Script: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Film: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I love Italian-style horror movies from the 1970s in part because they all have a ton of different names. In the case of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, there are a whopping 15 additional names for this film, most of which are Italian. The version I found on Hulu had the title The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue as a title a couple of minutes in. This is despite the fact that the Manchester Morgue never appears in the film. Anyway, this is classic mid-‘70s zombie horror and it’s surprisingly entertaining and contains a fun amount of carnage.

How to explain this? George (Ray Lovelock) is on his way from Manchester to the Lake District in the UK to work on a vacation home. While filling up with gas, a woman named Edna (Cristina Galbo) backs into his motorcycle, damaging the front wheel. Fortunately for George, she’s headed to roughly the same area. So while his bike goes in the shop, she gives him a lift (actually, he drives) to where they’re going. They get lost, and while George tries to get directions, Edna is attacked by a man who disappears when she runs for help. Importantly, the place where they stop for directions is a farm testing out new equipment. This new equipment creates ultrasonic radiation that makes insects attack each other, thus nullifying their effect on the crops. Yes, I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Bear with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Ocean Blue

Film: Finding Nemo
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Maxine, my 11-year-old daughter, hates Finding Nemo. Hates it, and she’s never really given me a reason why. Frequently, when I watch something more attuned to kids, I invite my kids to watch with me, but I knew that it wouldn’t be worth asking this time. I don’t get her objection. This isn’t one I would rank among Pixar’s greatest achievements—it’s no Toy Story or The Incredibles, but it’s got all of the elements of really good family film. There’s humor, adventure, and a nice message at the end. Kids, right?

Anyway, my guess is that pretty much everyone reading this has seen Finding Nemo at least once, and anyone with kids between two and 18 has seen it a couple of dozen times (unless your kids hate it like mine does). We start with the classic Disney trope when we’re introduced to Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), a pair of clownfish living in an anemone somewhere in the ocean. They are expecting their first clutch of 400 or so eggs to hatch any day, but their marital and impending bliss is interrupted by a wandering barracuda. Marlin tries to fight it off but is knocked unconscious. When he wakes, Coral is gone, along with all of the eggs but one, which hatches into Nemo (Alexander Gould). So, we have a traditional Disney one-parent family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lady Day

Film: Lady Sings the Blues
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

In my head, I have a tendency to mix up Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. I’m not sure I’ll do that again after seeing Lady Sings the Blues, the biopic of Billie Holiday. This is a film that reminds me a great deal of La Vie en Rose, but only because I saw that one first. Both films cover the meteoric career of a supremely talented but ultimately tragic singer. I have to admit, I was nervous about a film featuring Diana Ross in a dramatic role. My nerves were unjustified. Ross is tremendous, both as a singer (duh) but also playing a woman torn apart by her talent and her evident unending appetite for heroin.

The film opens with Holiday in a padded cell, strapped in a straitjacket, and raving from crushing heroin withdrawal. What follows comes in flashback, starting with young Billie when she was still named Eleanora (but is still played by Diana Ross). As a young girl, Eleanora works in a brothel cleaning, and before we get too far, she is raped by one of the customers. Her mother packages her off as a maid to a woman who mistreats her, and before too long, Eleanora is working in a brothel herself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Film: Min and Bill
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

More than most films, comedies are a product of their time. What one generation finds funny, the next generation scratches its head at. Such it is with Min and Bill. Listed as both a comedy and a drama, the comedic elements of the film are the broad slapstick style that actually work better in silent films than they do in early talkies. The initial comedy scene, which involves one of our title characters hijacking a boat, is the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

We establish our three major characters right away. Bill (Wallace Beery) is a fisherman who lives at a dockside boarding house operated by Min (Marie Dressler). The two have a comically antagonist relationship, but it’s evident within a few moments that the two are extremely fond of each other. While Min loves her boarding house and Bill, too, the real joy in her life is Nancy (Dorothy Jordan). Nancy was abandoned by her mother as an infant and has been raised by Min to assist around the boarding house. Nancy’s age is indeterminate; all we know is that she’s very young; 14 or 15 would be a good guess.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Greatest

Film: Ali
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Every now and then, an actor known for fluff pieces, comedies, or summer blockbuster actiony pablum pulls off a role that demonstrates that he or she is deserving of a lot more respect. Such I the case with Will Smith and Ali. You could argue that Smith attempted to do this with the previous year’s The Legend of Bagger Vance. But it was Ali where Smith showed his chops. Of course, he immediately went back to summer blockbusters and sequels, but every now and then, Smith pulls out a performance that shows he’s better than a lot of his films. For what it’s worth, the same thing could be said about Jamie Foxx in this film, too.

Ali, like most biopics worth the time and effort, doesn’t cover the entire life of its subject, but focuses instead on the most interesting part of the subject’s life. In the case of Muhammad Ali (Will Smith) this means skipping his amateur career and jumping directly into his two fights with Sonny Liston (Michael Bennt), his conversion to Islam, his relationship with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles) and his troubles with the draft, legal battles, and eventual release from his military obligations and reinstatement of his boxing license. The film covers Ali’s first fight with Joe Frazier (James Toney) and concludes with Ali’s recapturing of the world heavyweight title in his fight against George Foreman (Charles Shufford) in the now-legendary Rumble in the Jungle. The film wisely avoids dealing with Ali’s decline, later years, and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. No, we get Ali in his prime, the Ali that was a force of nature as much as he was a force in boxing.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

All the News that Fits

Film: Good Night and Good Luck
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Once upon a time, journalism actually meant something in this country. These days you have to search pretty hard to find journalism that isn’t slanted in one direction or another. But back in the day, during the days of radio and the early days of television, the news actually meant something and journalistic integrity wasn’t the punchline of jokes. Few people had or have the sort of journalistic reputation enjoyed by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow is something of a hero of mine. He is in many ways the original badass newsman. Good Night and Good Luck is not the story of Murrow’s finest hour, which could be argued was his coverage of the blitz in London. Murrow’s attack on Senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC hearings could be argued as the finest hour for journalism period.

The story of the film is simply that. Starting with the release of an airman from the Air Force for refusing to denounce his own father, Murrow (David Straithairn) and his team embarked on a direct attack and response to McCarthy’s accusations and tirades against phantom communism. Among Murrow’s team is his producer Fred Friendly (director and co-screenwriter George Clooney) and reporter Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.), who, in a story that parallels the main action, is forced to hide his marriage to co-worker Shirley (Patricia Clarkson) from the rest of the office due to a non-fraternization policy at CBS.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

White as Snow

Film: Blancanieves
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Friend and once-and-future podcasting partner Nick Jobe and I trade lists of films now and again; I’ve got one of Nick’s coming up in a little more than a week, matter of fact. Because of this, I tend to have my eye out for films that I suspect he hasn’t seen and that I like. Nick’s got a thing for fantasy and fairy tales, which meant going into Blancanieves, a modern silent retelling of the Snow White story was particularly interesting for me. I figured if it was good enough to recommend, I’d give this to Nick on his next list.

I haven’t quite made up my mind on it in terms of that recommendation for Nick. Blancanieves has a great deal going for it in addition to its retelling of a classic fairy tale brought forward to the modern era. There are problems, though, and most unfortunately, the bulk of the problems come in the last 10 minutes. When a good film shits the bed at the end, it ends up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Blancanieves doesn’t quite go that far, but what should be a resolution for the audience ends up being completely unfulfilled all the way around. This means we’re likely going to get to some spoilers here before the end.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Merchant Ivory

Film: Howards End
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Ah, Merchant/Ivory. You know what you’re getting with a Merchant/Ivory picture, which means I knew exactly what I was signing up for with Howards End. One a slightly more positive note for me, at least this particular period drama is one that takes place in the 20th century rather than the 19th or earlier. I don’t dislike period dramas in general, but Merchant/Ivory fare tends to be along the line of Eddie Izzard’s spoof of British films involving people named Sebastian rearranging matches and having stilted conversations of half sentences. There’s almost a prudishness to their style, as if the height of romance were longing glances and pining.

Howards End has some of those traits, but it’s also an interesting social commentary. It is a treatise on social class and changing social roles in Edwardian England. It does this by contrasting the various fortunes and social mixings of three families. The first is the Schlegels who, despite their partly-German ancestry, are British to the core. They are a monied family deep with tradition. The Wilcox family are new money and extremely concerned with social rank in the main because they have only recently attained the sort of wealth that affords them such privilege. The third family is the Basts, who are poor but ambitious.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Home is Where the Hurt is

Film: Rachel Getting Married
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

I pick a movie on any given day based on a number of potential factors. Mood is part of it, as is naturally availability. But there are some other factors that go into what I decide to watch on a given day. Recently I discovered that, in large part because of the way the 1001 Movies list functions, I’m really behind on movies from the 2000s. Additionally, the 1001 List is extremely lax on adding Best Actress nominations to the official list, so I’m behind there, too. As it happens, 2008’s Rachel Getting Married is the only Best Actress film I haven’t seen currently streaming, which made it an easy choice.

I knew right away I was in for a rough ride. This says nothing about star Anne Hathaway, who I tend to like, nor anything about director Jonathan Demme, who I also tend to like. No, it’s because this is one of those family dramas where everyone gets together and all sorts of issues and problems come out. In this case, the problems all come from Kym (Hathaway), a model doing a stint in rehab, released for a few days to attend the wedding of her sister Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It Tolls for Thee

Film: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I have something of a love/hate relationship with the writings of Ernest Hemingway. On the one hand, I think he was one of the great short story writers of the 20th century in English or any other language. On the other hand, I tend to hate his novels. My biggest problem with Hemingway’s novels is that the man couldn’t write a female character of any value or substance to save his life. In anything longer than a couple of pages, his woman characters turn into mush. All they can do is depend on the men for everything. They’re typically so given over to being in love that they are incapable of the simplest action without approval. In their own way, they sort of presage the Twilight books, at least from what I’ve heard (thanks, Nick). That being the case, I can’t say I was entirely excited about For Whom the Bell Tolls. This was additionally true thanks to the nearly 3-hour running time.

Like a lot of Hemingway with which I am familiar, For Whom the Bell Tolls trades on Hemingway’s personal experience in the Spanish Civil War. That in and of itself is fairly noteworthy. The two sides in the war were the communist Republicans and the fascists, which were led by Franco. The U.S., of course, was at war with fascists in 1943, which means that this film is actually pro-communist. Our heroes, in fact every named character, is fighting for the communist side of the conflict. Filmmakers could get away with this in the mid-1940s. Imagine trying this during the McCarthy years.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Famous Flower, Different Color

Film: The Blue Dahlia
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Like most people who appreciate films from the 1940s and 1950s, I’m a fan of the film noir style. The Blue Dahlia has the pedigree as the only original screenplay written by the great Raymond Chandler. What makes it interesting, at least from my perspective, is that it’s missing several of the elements of the classic noir, particularly in the femme fatale department. The real femme fatale here dies in the first reel, which makes what follows pretty unusual.

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) is a Navy pilot put on leave along with two of his friends, George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont) and Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix). Buzz suffered a serious injury in the line of duty and has a metal plate in his head. Because of this, he gets frequent headaches, particularly from jazz music, and loses his temper quickly. Johnny goes home to his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) only to discover some ugly truths. Helen hasn’t been pining away waiting for Johnny’s return. Instead, she’s been living it up in a hotel with a group of rowdy friends and her new man, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva).