Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Year Five

This closes out my fifth year blogging movies. On the one hand, that feels like a really long time. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve just gotten started. I put up something like 300 reviews this year and averaged a touch over a movie/day for the year (367 movies watched total).

There are a few changes planned for 2015. The major change is the addition of a new category of Oscar films. Best Original Screenplay felt lonely, so I’ve added Best Adapted Screenplay, a category that puts an addition five-and-a-half dozen or so films onto my list, which translates to about three months’ worth of reviews. As a bonus, though, I’ve already completed about 10 full years of this category, so there’s that.

I enjoyed doing a series of films from Nick Jobe this year, so I’ve decided to expand on that. Instead of just having Nick select films for me in 2015, I’ve brought in the entire team at Your Face. Nick, Nolahn, and Jason have each chosen four movies for me, and I’ll rotate their reviews month by month. Your Face Picks Movies will appear on the third Monday of every month.

I’ve also got a set of films from Chip Lary at Tips from Chip. Having seen me review Nick’s choices from last year, he wanted to do the same. I’ve given him a set of 12 and he’s given me 13—one month will be a double-feature. Picks from Chip will show up on the second Monday of every month.

The Oscar Got It Wrong! posts will continue on Fridays. I’m having too much fun with them to stop.

Here’s to 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Film: San Francisco
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Spencer Tracy was nominated for Best Actor for San Francisco, so it would be understandable from my perspective to think that perhaps Tracy would be the central character of the film, or at least one of the central characters. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that the leading players here are Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. Tracy, at best, is the fourth player in the film and is only on screen for a small percentage of the running time. This is a weird episode with the Hays Code, I think. Since Clark Gable, by all rights the main actor in the film, plays a scoundrel, it’s almost as if he didn’t deserve to get the nomination.

Our film starts a bit before the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. We’re introduced to Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), who runs the Paradise Club in the Barbary Coast section of the city. It’s a rough part of town, filled with clubs, drinking, and illegal gambling, and Blackie is very much one of the kings of the area. Into this mass of humanity, sin, and depravity wanders Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), an opera singer from Colorado looking to make her way in the city. She winds up at Blackie’s club because her building has burned down and she needs a singing job. After a tryout and a quick ogle, Blackie hires her.

Monday, December 29, 2014


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

The early years of the Oscars tend to plague me not because I have trouble watching the films but because I have trouble locating them in general. Turner Classic Movies proves to be invaluable in locating some of the films from the first couple of years, and my DVR is a testament to this. With the DVR nearing capacity, though, I thought it was high time to get a few films out of the way to make room for what is coming in the next few months. Since those early years are a problem, Romance from 1930 made sense. It didn’t hurt that this was one of the shortest films I had on the entire Oscar list.

Romance is one of those movies that is told almost entirely in flashback. Young Harry (Elliott Nugent), the sone of a wealthy family, plans to marry an actress despite the social problems that this will cause and the embarrassment his family will suffer. He is granted an audience with his grandfather Thomas Armstrong (Gavin Gordon), expecting that this will be a long tirade against his impending marriage. Grandfather Tom, after all, is a minister and appears to have a reputation for demanding a high moral code from his relatives. And, after all, actresses don’t have the purest reputation.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Film: Alice, Interiors
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

My experience with Woody Allen films is that I tend to like them. There have been a few Allen films that I haven’t enjoyed much, but usually I look forward to watching one of his movies. NetFlix, however, seems to dislike Woody Allen, since a surprisingly large number of his films aren’t available either streaming or on disc. When a couple of these unavailable films showed up streaming for a short time, I figured I should get them watched. Alice was among these. This film is described as Woody Allen’s take on Alice in Wonderland, and I see the connection, even if that connection is tenuous. This is very much a film that lives in the world of magical realism.

Alice Tate (Mia Farrow) is a vapid socialite housewife living in New York. Her day consists of getting manicures, buying stuff that she doesn’t need, and instructing the nanny on how to deal with her children. Her husband Doug (William Hurt) makes a lot of money and generally ignores his family. Alice is more or less there to make him look good and host parties for him. As the film begins, Alice has more or less started to realize that her entire life is an afterthought. At this same time, she meets Joe (Joe Mantegna), a divorced saxophone player whose child goes to the same pre-school as Alice’s. She’s immediate attracted to him, which manifests in guilt and back pain.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Grace Under Pressure

Film: The Country Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s always a little bit of a surprise to me that I like Bing Crosby as an actor. I do, though. Crosby is easy to like, especially when he’s playing a nice guy priest or a lovable rogue across from Bob Hope. This made The Country Girl an interesting experiment for me. I like Crosby, but I’ve only seen him in musical and light comic roles. How would he fare in an actual drama acting alongside Grace Kelly and William Holden?

I didn’t expect a drama, honestly. This is the only straight drama I know of in Crosby’s career, although I’m sure there are others. I know him from films like High Society, Going My Way, and the “Road to…” movies. Playing a washed-up alcoholic actor feels out of his wheelhouse, and yet that’s where we are. In a sense, there’s an interesting parallel between the film’s story and the film’s reality. In the film, a Broadway production depends almost entirely on the performance of this has-been actor while The Country Girl itself hangs entirely on the performance of a guy best-known and most comfortable crooning over a piano and cracking jokes at the camera.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

For the last few years, my traditional Christmas post has been to suggest 10 new additions to the 1001 Movies list. Sure, I’ve finished the list and finished it again this year (and let me tell you, having to watch 13 films was a lot easier than the first 1154). But I see no reason to change this tradition. There are plenty of films that should be on the 1001 Movies list that have never been there. There’s too much chaff and some wheat that’s been tossed out. While I know I have no pull with the editors and my opinions and a couple of dollars will get you a coffee at Starbucks, it makes me feel better to suggest some things that need more love.

The following films are offered in no specific order other than, more or less, the order that I thought of them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

17 Will Get You 20

Film: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I make no secret of my love of Cary Grant. I don’t feel a need to, really. There’s no shame in enjoying the work of one of the great actors of his era. The thing I like the most about Grant is not that he could pull off an action role or do a serious scene, but that he had nearly perfect comic timing. Given good material, Grant was capable of comedic genius. I’ll say the same thing about Myrna Loy, who I think was underrated in general and that it’s close to criminal that she never got an Oscar nomination. So what a joy to discover that The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer features both of these actors. Without knowing it, I was looking forward to this.

We’re given a very unusual meet-cute for our two principle characters. Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy) presides over a case of a small melee evidently caused by the presence of a man named Richard Nugent (Cary Grant). It seems that Nugent, an acclaimed artist, was less a participant in the altercation and more the catalyst, but he has a reputation. Specifically, Nugent has come up on the radar of assistant district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee). Nugent is let off, but sternly warned by Judge Turner that she does not want to see him in her court again.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lust in the Dust

Film: Duel in the Sun
Format: DVD from Mt. Morris Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Anyone who has worked on a group project knows that there’s often a benefit to having the suggestions of other people. Sometimes, though, other people turn out to be much more of a hindrance than a help. In the case of Duel in the Sun, King Vidor is give the sole directorial credit, but there are six uncredited directors on this film. Six. I can only imagine that at some level, this led to a “too many cooks” situation.

This is exacerbated, at least for me, by the fact that this film stars Jennifer Jones, who tends to leave me cold. This is balanced by it also featuring Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish, and Lionel Barrymore. Still, I specifically watched this because Jones was nominated for Best Actress for this film, so she was the main reason I spent time with Duel in the Sun in the first place.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Snitches Get Stitches

Film: The Informer
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Every now and then, I run across a film that I struggle mightily to understand. That’s absolutely the case with The Informer. The story itself isn’t that difficult to understand. But for a movie as short as this one is (it clocks in at just a touch over 90 minutes), there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough story to fill the time. It’s so simple, in fact, that I kind of don’t understand why it wasn’t over at the 40-minute mark.

Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen, who beat most of the cast of Mutiny on the Bounty to win the Oscar) is a down-on-his-luck Irishman. He’s down on his luck because several months earlier, he was summarily dismissed from the Irish Sinn Fein rebels for refusing to kill a man in cold blood. Since that time, he has lived from hand to mouth. He sees a wanted poster for his old friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) with a 20-pound reward. As it happens, he also runs into his streetwalking girlfriend Katie (Margot Grahame), who is “looking for work” since she’s also out of money and owes on her rent. As it happens, the reward money for turning in Frankie is exactly the amount needed to get both Gypo and Katie to America.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Number One Fan

Film: Misery
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Watch enough movies, and eventually you’ll see some stuff that you just don’t want to see again. Usually, that means a film that I don’t want to watch again regardless of what I thought of it. I don’t plan on watching Salo a second time, for instance, because there are things I don’t want to sit through again and because I think it’s an affront. A film like Idi i Smotri, though, I think is one of the great films of its year but I don’t think I have the emotional capacity to see it a second time. Misery is unique in this respect. I love this film, but there is a single scene I have never been able to watch a second time. If you’ve seen Misery, you know the precise scene I am talking about.

Aside from that one scene, Misery is most notable for being the film that made the nation aware that Kathy Bates existed, and we have to give the movie its props for that. Before this, who knew who she was? After this, who didn’t? Bates’s performance as Annie Wilkes is one of the all-time great out-of-nowhere performances in film history. Bates may have been around before this film, but once she was seen here, she was everywhere.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Film: Of Mice and Men
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

When I wrote up The Grapes of Wrath some time ago, I mentioned the arguments between my brother Tom and my dad about Tom’s reading habits. Dad never failed to push classics on Tom while Tom was much more attuned to reading pulp novels. The book dad pushed the most was, in fact, The Grapes of Wrath. Of Mice and Men is arguably the Steinbeck story that is more famous than the one Dad constantly wanted one of us to read. I’ve still never read The Grapes of Wrath, but I’ve read Of Mice and Men.

Of course, it’s been years since I’ve read it, but I remember the basics of the story. I also remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the Abominable Snowman who was based completely on one of the characters from this. This isn’t a story I enjoy much because of where it goes, but I can’t disagree with it being a true classic of American literature.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Eleanor Powell

Film: Broadway Melody of 1936
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Line up the Best Picture winners end to end, and one the bottom in my opinion is The Broadway Melody, the second winner ever. That being the case, I can’t say I was excited to sit down and watch Broadway Melody of 1936. However, the DVR is getting full, which means I need to get through some of the older stuff to make room for what I want to record in the next couple of months. And so, Broadway Melody of 1936 it is.

What I didn’t know going in is that this would be my first exposure to Eleanor Powell, who had a terribly short film career. There’s a pretty strong case to be made for the idea that Powell stopped getting work because she was something like a threat to many of the other dancers of the time. Oh, I don’t mean she came at them with switchblades or anything, but Eleanor Powell was a real talent. Gene Kelly once said that when Fred Astaire danced with Ginger Rogers, it was the only time you watched the man. Well, I’ve seen clips of Powell dancing with Fred Astaire…and when they’re on stage together, you watch her. She’s as good as he is. Maybe better, because she’s doing exactly what he does and doing it as fast, as on the beat, and in heels.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nick's Pick: Love Actually

Film: Love Actually
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

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

Love Actually bills itself as the ultimate romantic comedy. Everytime ad copy or promotional materials use the word “ultimate,” a part of me hopes its used in the sense of “last one ever.” Rom-coms aren’t my favorite genre of film, mostly because they end up being formulaic. They aren’t generally so much about what ending we’re going to get, but how we’re going to get to the ending we want. Good rom-coms are worth seeking out, and I’ve heard enough good about Love Actually that I was hopeful.

I’m not going to do my typical summary for this one, though, because there’s just too damn much. There are nine or ten intertwined plots here, with connections that go from story to story. It’s complicated enough that the Wikipedia write-up contains a flow chart that manages to get a couple of the connections wrong. There are a couple of main stories and a larger number of secondary, or at least smaller ones that aren’t as central to the various major narratives.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You May Already Be a Winner

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

Fulfilling the new movies placed on the 1001 Movies list has meant frequently taking breaks from my regular Oscar posting, which is kind of frustrating to me. I set particular goals for myself monthly, and deviating from that makes it harder to hit those goals. So, a film like Nebraska that appears on the new 1001 Movies list and also knocks out some Oscars for me is a good thing, which is why I saved this one as the last of the new 1001 additions. So, once again, I’m done with the 1001 Movies list, all 1167 of them.

I imagine that Nebraska tells a story that many people with aging parents can relate to. I am fortunate in that this is not something that reflects my life at all. My father will be 80 in January and my mother is a couple of years younger than he is. Both of my parents are in good physical and mental health. Neither seems to have lost a step mentally, and from what I remember of my dad’s parents and what I absolutely know of my mom’s, the same was true of them up to the moment they died.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Please Fasten Seat Belts

Film: Airport
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Genres and sub-genres start somewhere. In the 1970s (and yes, I know this from having lived through them), it seemed like every year came with a disaster picture, many of which were produced by Irwin Allen. As it happens, though, the original disaster pic, Airport, was not an Irwin Allen movie. This is the film that started the sub-genre that gave us films like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, and The Poseidon Adventure. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Basically, this is a film that has the central conceit of giving us a typical day in the life of a major Midwestern airport. In this case, that means a blizzard, closed runways, and angry board of directors, protestors, an elderly stowaway, and a guy with a bomb in a briefcase. We also get a couple of failing marriages, a couple of affairs, and a grizzled maintenance man. In addition to serving as more than the daily suggested allowance of melodrama, Airport also serves as enough of a love letter to the 707 airplane that I suspect Boeing may have had a hand in the financing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Love Hurts

Film: Sense and Sensibility
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library on laptop.

I was asked at work recently to go through our library’s movie collection. Going through it, I encountered Sense and Sensibility, which I knew I needed to watch. It would be a lie to suggest that this was a film I was looking forward to seeing. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m not always the biggest fan of costume dramas, and if I’m completely honest, that goes double for dramatic romances. It feels like there’s so much posturing in so many of these films. People have such blatantly obvious emotions and are forced by propriety or custom to hide them. I find them frustrating. Still, this is one I need to get through, and I learned in doing the 1001 Movies list that it’s often better to rip the Band-Aid off than to let opportunities like this one linger.

Surprise, surprise, Sense and Sensibility is not the tepid little romance I expected, but a film with real depth and with characters that are more than simple cut-outs to hang fancy clothes on. Put bluntly, I expected a slog through drippy romance, and got something far more entertaining than I could have thought possible.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Victoria Regina

Film: Mrs. Brown (Her Majesty Mrs. Brown)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t always do so well with period dramas. Sometimes I like them but they frequently leave me cold. The Merchant-Ivory style of film doesn’t do a lot for me in general. With Mrs. Brown (sometimes called Her Majesty Mrs. Brown), I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. I knew nothing going in, really, other than that it stars Judi Dench, who I tend to like, and Billy Connolly, who I tend to think is one of the coolest human beings currently on the planet. Call it a wash going in.

This is the story of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her period of mourning after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. Their marriage, which spanned something north of 20 years, was apparently a very happy one, which is a rare thing for monarchs. The death of Albert sent Victoria into a spiral of depression that lasted for a long time. In desperation, John Brown (Billy Connolly) is sent for. Brown was a loyal servant to Albert, and the hope was that he would help draw her out again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Film: Frankenweenie
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Film nerds have their pet directors. There are Christopher Nolan nerds who will forgive him any sins (like The Prestige, yes, I know I’m in the minority on that) until he does something so terrible that it’s not worth defending. Quentin Tarantino is another director who has a legion of fans who will watch anything he produces. Back in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, the film director that nerds tended to choose to geek over was Tim Burton, a love affair that lasted until Burton’s wretched remake of Planet of the Apes. Anyway, back in those dark days, anyone who knew Burton also knew that one of his first projects was a short film called Frankenweenie about a boy who brings his dog back from the dead a la Mary Shelley’s story. So when an animated version of the story headed by Burton was announced, it was evident that this would be a labor of love.

And that is the basic story here. Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is something of a social outcast in school, but he seems perfectly happy working on weird projects and making home movies with his dog, Sparky. When the school science fair comes around, he wants to participate, but his father (Martin Short) cuts a deal. Victor can participate in the science fair if he also plays baseball. Given no other options, Victor agrees. Tragically, in his first at-bat, Victor cranks a home run and Sparky runs after the ball, only to be killed when he runs into the street.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dim Sum

Film: Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not precisely sure how to react to Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin). It is, essentially, a drama anthology, which makes it sort of a rare beast. The four stories we are given here are evidently ripped from the headlines of Chinese newspapers. While not interconnected by anything but the tiniest of threads, the four stories all concern life in the new, capitalist China. More specifically, the stories deal with people who have been pushed to the margins in this new society. In each case, our protagonists are driven to violence of one sort or another.

The film opens with a man driving a motorcycle down a lonely highway. He is accosted by a trio of men holding axes and demanding money. The man takes out a pistol and shoots all three before driving away. Soon after, he passes a wrecked truck being observed by the police and, at least temporarily, drives out of our consideration.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Flying

Film: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

When the subject of film animation comes up, there are a few legendary names that are mentioned immediately. Walt Disney, Ralph Bakshi, Ray Harryhausen, and these days studios like Pixar and Aardman come to mind immediately. But perhaps no name is as well beloved by modern audiences for animation than that of Hayao Miyazaki, and with good reason. Miyazaki’s films are well loved for the same reasons that people love Pixar films. They are made not merely with care and passion, but with a genuine love of storytelling and a sense of wonder. Miyazaki’s announced retirement in 2013 upset a great number of people, which makes The Wind Rises, his last film, something special.

What soon becomes evident is that unlike Miyazaki’s previous films, The Wind Rises is only moderately based in the world of fantasy, and even here, the fantasy elements exist only in the dreams of the principle character. We begin with young Jiro Horikoshi (voiced in the American version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the early part of the last century. Jiro wants nothing more than to be a pilot, but his poor vision and thick glasses prevent him from doing so. In his dreams, he converses with Italian airplane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci), who tells him it is much better to create planes of true beauty than to fly them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Film: The Song of Bernadette
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The Song of Bernadette opens with the quote, “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.” To me, this is nothing more than an excuse to claim bullshit as real as long as people believe in it. And boy, is that what we’re going to get with this one. The Song of Bernadette starts with mummery, continues through with mummery and ends with the same. The opening quote is absolutely correct. For the religious, the story will be accepted without evidence. For the skeptical, the evidence provided is ludicrously thin.

So, shoes off because we’re jumping into the deep end of Catholic dogma with both feet, and I’m going to keep this short and sweet (unlike the film itself). The film is about the “discovery” of the healing properties of the waters of Lourdes. It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church recognizes 69 official miraculous healings thanks to the waters of this particular shrine. That sounds pretty amazing until you realize that about 200 million people have visited since the shrine was created, meaning the chances for a miracle cure are about 1 in 3,000,000. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Off Script: Near Dark

Film: Near Dark
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first started blogging, I made the decision to rewatch everything I was going to review. That’s resulted in some pain more than once, of course, but it’s a decision I stand by. While plenty of my opinions have remained the same over the years, a number of my opinions have shifted one way or the other. With a film like Near Dark, I’m happy to have maintained this position of rewatching before reviewing, because this is a film that has not aged as well as I would have liked it to.

The premise is appealing on its face. Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a young red-blooded Oklahoman, encounters a drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). The two spend the night together, mostly with Mae acting oddly and Caleb attempting to get something going with her. As dawn approaches, Mae panics, demanding that he get her home. He stops a mile or so from where she is staying and demands a kiss. She agrees, and finishes the kiss with a bite on Caleb’s neck, because as we’ve known all along, Mae is a vampire. And, now that the sun is up, Caleb’s flesh starts burning in the sunlight, so he rabbits home, but is picked up by Mae and her drifter family just as he nears his house.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dia de los Muertos

Film: Under the Volcano
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

There’s a certain reality when I find a film like Under the Volcano. This is a film I’d never heard of before compiling my Oscar list and it was nominated (in terms of awards I care about) only for Best Actor. Generally speaking, what that means is a fairly average movie with a singular stand-out performance. That’s almost the case with Under the Volcano. The most pressing and singular reason to pay attention to this film is the performance of Albert Finney. However, unlike many films with a single acting nomination, there are some other reasons to watch this one as well.

The story is both simple and nearly impossible to follow. Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) is the ex-British Consul stationed in Cuernavaca, Mexico. His wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) has left him, but has continued to write him letters, none of which he reads. It’s obvious from the first moment we see him that Geoffrey has been drinking for a very long time. It’s evident soon after that that Firmin hasn’t just been drinking on this day. Geoffrey is more or less a professional drunk, the sort of a man who is so used to constantly fueling himself with alcohol that he can no longer function without it.