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.