Saturday, August 7, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, July 2021

Another month down. July was a difficult month for me and I’m happy to see it in the rearview mirror. I knocked five off the giant list this month, which is better than some in the past. It was a mixed bag this month—a couple I expected to like more than I did and one in particular I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. That, of course, is the point to all of this.

What I’ve Caught Up With, July 2021:
Film: The Children’s Hour (1961)

These days, a film about lesbianism doesn’t raise an eyebrow except from people who are fundamentally terrible in a lot of ways. But in 1961, and featuring Audrey Hepburn, I can imagine this caused a bit of a stir. It’s honestly hard to imagine now, though—this is unbelievably tame to the point of prudishness. Audrey Hepburn is lovely as always, Shirley MacLaine is dandy, and it’s always good to see James Garner in a role. Fay Bainter and Miriam Hopkins steal every scene they are in. It’s also interesting to see Veronica Cartwright in her first credited role a good 18 years before Alien. This is surprisingly dark, and I’m honestly not sure if I liked it.

Film: Hairspray (2007)

I wasn’t sure what I would get with the fully-musical remake of Hairspray. It could be brilliant in every aspect, but my heart is going to belong to the original. There are some sensible updates from the original story here, and this works really well as a traditional musical. It’s also cast superbly. I don’t know what was going on with Travolta’s accent (and as weird as this is to say, he’ll never measure up to Divine), but otherwise, top to bottom, this is awfully good. I’m a sucker for Queen Latifah, and this is a solid turn for both James Marsden and Zac Efron. It also helps that Nikki Blonsky is really engaging as Tracy Turnblad. I’m more than pleasantly surprised.

Film: Vivacious Lady (1938)

A good screwball romance can be a lot of fun, and much of that depends on the cast. In the case of Vivacious Lady, our romantic couple is James Stewart and Ginger Rogers, with one of the main comic foils being Charles Coburn. That’s a hard crew to top. In this, Stewart’s staid botany professor and Rogers’s showgirl fall head-over-heels in love at first sight, get married, and then need to figure out how to break the news to Stewart’s college family. It feels a bit like Ball of Fire, but this one came first. Stewart always played a good straight man and Coburn was a comic gem in virtually every role. But the standout here is Ginger Rogers, who has tremendous comic timing. Had she not had such a great career with Fred Astaire, she’d be more known for this kind of role.

Film: The Cable Guy (1996)

I find Jim Carey tiring when he’s playing the roles that made him famous. He feels like someone who would be hard to be around for a long time, at least in these roles. The Cable Guy is a lot darker than many of his earlier roles, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. That said, The Cable Guy has a surprisingly deep cast. Jim Carey, sure. Matthew Broderick, yes. But Jack Black, George Segal, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, and more walk across the screen here, as does director Ben Stiller. I can’t say that I hate this movie, but it’s the kind of comedy that often makes me uncomfortable, so it’s hard to like.

Film: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

When a high-profile animated film from a major studio isn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature, it raises some red flags. With The Secret Life of Pets, it didn’t take me too long to figure out. Ostensibly about what our pets do when we’re not home, this soon becomes a sort of weird homage to The Incredible Journey. Let’s leave off the fact that having Louis C.K. as the main voice hasn’t aged well. There’s a lot of bad pet owner behavior here, not the least of which being that our two main characters’ owner brings home a second dog without introducing him to her first dog. If this had just been about what the pets do during the day, there were so many possibilities instead of what we got.


  1. I’ve had those terrible months and can sympathize that you just can’t wait for them to be over. Hope August is much better.

    Vivacious Lady is by far the film I liked best out of this lot. I agree Ginger does very well and this is a better movie than some of her more well-known pictures, certainly more fun. I also agree about Jimmy and Coburn, but I must put a shout out to Beulah Bondi and her dance scene. She’s given less to do than everyone else, but she does it with her customary expertise.

    I know this version of The Children’s Hour is truer to the original Lillian Hellman play that served as its basis than the original 30’s Merle Oberon/Miriam Hopkins film These Three but the first was a better film. As Hellman said it’s not the subject of the gossip that is so destructive but the gossip itself that can destroy. This one suffered from the conventions of the time making Shirley’s character a sad tortured misfit, though she does what she can with the role. I found the two supporting women more compelling than any of the lead trio.

    I was happily surprised when I went to see Hairspray in the theatre. I had seen the John Waters mundo bizzarro but engaging original and wondered how they would rework it for the masses. It turned out not to be as difficult as I thought it would be with a very sharp eye for casting except in one role. Travolta is stunt casting for his name alone and while he doesn’t humiliate himself, he is nowhere near everyone else’s level. I understand he was cast for name value but how much better it would have been with Harvey Fierstein repeating his stage role. The biggest surprises were the men-I didn’t know much about Zac Efron at the time, but he showed he was much more talented than I assumed…. what he’s done with it since is disappointing though. Marsden is charming but the real standout for me was Christopher Walken who even though he was there in all his Walken oddity handled his big number well.

    The Cable Guy’s terrific cast was about all I took away from that movie.

    There are exceptions here and there but in the main I’m not an animation fan, so I never had any desire to see The Secret Life of Pets reading that it’s not much makes me sure that I’m missing nothing not having seen it.

    My birthday project continues apace with about my normal number of recommendable films among the glut of nothing special.

    The best was a production of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession starring Coral Browne from the 70’s. It’s a bit stagy but Coral was terrific and her daughter was played by an impossibly young Penelope Wilton.

    The next, The Happiness of Three Women, shared a bit with The Children’s Hour since it had to do with gossip and how detrimental it can be. I watched it for Brenda de Banzie, she was terrific plus a young Petula Clark was also in the cast.

    I finally tracked down one I’d been in search of for years-99 and 44/100% Dead. It was good and worth seeing but coming as it did from John Frankenheimer with a cast comprised of Richard Harris, Edmond O’Brien, Bradford Dillman, Chuck Connors and Constance Ford I expected more than it delivered. On the plus side it was the final Connie Ford (LOVE her) film I had to see to complete her filmography.

    The final film was the Linda Ronstadt documentary The Sound of My Voice. Not the best doc I’ve ever seen but if you’re a fan of hers as I am it gives a nice overview of her career.

    1. Vivacious Lady feels to me like a template for a screwball. It's fun and harmless, good songs, memorable characters and a happy ending. That's very much what it should deliver.

      I agree completely on the stunt casting of Travolta in Hairspray. Harvey Fierstein would have been such a wonderful addition, but it wouldn't have had the selling power that Travolta's name did. What a shame--Edna is such an important role, too.

      These Three looks to have a fabulous cast, and also appears to be streaming on Amazon, so I may watch that in the next week or so. As I said with The Children's Hour, I haven't decided yet if I like it or not. It's right on the border.

      I agree on The Cable Guy. That cast is better than the resultant movie. You're safe avoiding The Secret Life of Pets.

  2. The Cable Guy was a film I was baffled by at first but re-watches made me appreciate the film even more as I love what Jim Carrey did as I just loved the fact that he was willing to go into dark territory.

    I liked Hairspray though it doesn't hold a candle to the original film. Plus, John Travolta is someone that needs to retire and come out of the closet.

    1. I get that The Cable Guy might well have been necessary for Carrey to get to some of the more interesting roles he did--it's just a point where I'm not sure I like the results.

      I agree on Hairspray. As much as the reboot was good and entertaining, it's never going to be the first one.