April 16, 2014

Vera (2011)

I binged on season 1 of the British crime drama Vera. Brenda Blethyn wows as Vera (the 'surly' detective); she's surrounded by a great cast (David Leon, Wunmi Mosaku), and the intricate mysteries kept me guessing 'whodunnit' until the end. If you like puzzlers, seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Amazon Prime (four episodes each).

March 18, 2014

Alien Trespass (2009)

It's amazing that some one somewhere found the 1957 presumed-destroyed film Alien Trespass and was able to release it in 2009. This pastiche of every 50s science fiction B movie you might have seen before it has not much more than that premise except a charming performance by Eric McCormack ... and color film! The movie is prepended with the newsreel that had been placed before it in 1957 which, coupled with Robert Patrick, gives the whole thing a family feel - although I'm not sure why.

February 28, 2014

The Flapper (1920)

I have no idea why this film is called The Flapper because it has no flappers (or flapper dresses); in fact, it was made in 1920 before the term was even used on a regular basis. At the most, star Olive Thomas (a one-time Vargas and Ziegfeld girl) attempts to vamp her man as she wears a dress similar to the one Theda Bara wore in A Fool There Was. The story is a piffle about a teenager from a girl's school, the adult she finds exciting (silent child sex?) and a robbery, but it is interesting to see Thomas whose death (from an undetermined accidental or intentional poisoning shortly after this film was made) was the first of the Hollywood tragedies that ultimately lead to the enactment of the Production Code.

February 16, 2014

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall, the 1937 film of the successful Emlyn Williams dramatic thriller, is a dark, atypical MGM film in that its tone and characters go against the studio's more famous light-hearted fare. Young Rosalind Russell, Robert Montgomery and (yes!) Dame May Whitty are all fascinating to watch dancing around the central murder mystery and are supported by a stellar cast (all in Oscar caliber performances). I don't want to convey anymore because it's a tight story (adapted by John Van Druten of I Am A Camera/Cabaret fame) and a fine film to watch unfold without prior knowledge.

February 15, 2014

The Dolly Sisters (1945)

The Dolly Sisters starring Betty Grable and June Haver is 20th Century Fox's 1945 musical biography about the titular vaudeville performers from the turn of the 20th century. Although the music and dancing are enjoyable, the lack of any story on which to hang these musical numbers is clearly evident (although sometimes it plays like For Me And My Gal with a second gal added). Vaudeville performer Harry Fox (played by John Payne) is also part of the story (or lack thereof) as is a song performed by the sisters in blackface; the former I get, the latter I don't.

January 16, 2014

Zoolander (2001)

I thought Zoolander (in essence, a comic take on The Manchurian Candidate) was an Adam Sandler movie so I never saw it. When I was informed that it was Ben Stiller and not the aforementioned, I found it immediately, watched it, and loved it! All white guys look alike.

January 9, 2014

Hedy Lamarr as a Nymphomaniac

Dishonored Lady is a 1947 potboiler in which the ravishing, patent-owning Hedy Lamarr, without so much as uttering the word, plays a nymphomaniac who seeks the help of a psychiatrist. Although timely in its themes (for example, Lamarr works in a man's job), the public domain movie plays out as one might expect from post-code Hollywood: love and marriage and murder (not in that order). The final scene almost plagiarizes the final scene of Casablanca - interesting considering the producers of the 1936 Joan Crawford vehicle Letty Lynton were convicted of plagiarizing the play version of Dishonored Lady causing the Crawford film to be pulled from circulation to this date.

January 6, 2014

It Happened One Christmas (1977)

It Happened One Christmas, the rarely-aired 1977 gender-reversed remake of It's A Wonderful Life was the first Frank Capra movie I saw; in other words, the television movie is pretty much a shot-by-shot copy of the classic original - with the same artificial snow and some small script modifications. Fortunately, the story is so strong that this version stands on it's own as a pleasant tale. Producer Marlo Thomas (who as lead actor channels her future television daughter, Jennifer Aniston) also made the right decisions in hiring Orson Welles (as Mr. Potter) for gravitas, Cloris Leachman (as angel Clara Oddbody) for humor and Wayne Rogers (as Mary Bailey's other half) for banality.

January 4, 2014

This Gun For Hire (1942)

This Gun For Hire, the 1942 film noir, is at times hopelessly propagandized, ridiculously out-dated, magically tuneful, screamingly over-the-top and miraculously riveting. In the film that made him a star (and with a part that belies his third billing), Alan Ladd creates the template for hired killers by stroking kittens, slapping women, killing men and generally packing an unstoppable punch as he seeks revenge; the monologue in which Ladd recounts a battered childhood was emotionally draining for both of us. Veronica Lake is the sultry songstress who becomes his redemption and Robert Preston is her guy and although you always know how this one will end, the last twenty or so minutes is a nicely paced, pulse-racing chase scene with great black and white cinematography that is not as expected.

December 28, 2013

Never Been Kissed (1999)

Never Been Kissed is a sweetly, intelligent throwback that never fails to work my tear ducts overtime. Drew Barrymore is adorable as the undercover reporter reliving her high school past; Molly Shannon, David Arquette, Gary Marshall, Octavia Spencer, John C. Reilly, Leelee Sobeiski, and Michael Vartan support admirably. The script recycles plot points from Carrie in a comedic way but they are integrated originally and the film is so effervescently made you can only be charmed.

December 4, 2013

The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2002)

The Happiness Of The Katakuris begins as claymation and ends as a wonderfully imaginative zombie musical. The musical works because the central characters are developed and the story (of a family trying to market their bed and breakfast) is not an afterthought to the zombies. Director Takashi Miike (of Audition and The Ichi Killer) has created an entrancing mashup of The Sound Of Music and Night Of The Living Dead; its surreality is beyond mere description and deserves a look.

December 1, 2013

A 1956 Music Video by Gower Champion!?

While perusing the public domain site archive.org, I happened upon Once Upon A Honeymoon a fifteen minute music video directed by Gower Champion. À la Michael Jackson's Thriller, this video is a complete story about recently married (m)ad man Ward Ellis who works too much so has never had a honeymoon; Virginia Gibson is a standout as his lovely wife and the premier vocalist of the video's song, A Castle in the Sky. A few solid character actors (Chick Chandler, Alan Mowbray and a small yet pivotal turn from Leo G. Carroll) round out the cast in this lost (and now found) infomercial from the 1950s.

Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)

Haunts of the Very Rich is one of the myriad Aaron Spelling productions aired as an ABC Movie Of The Week during the 1970s. This story of disparate people that find themselves questioning their lives and choices in a garden of Eden (actually Vizcaya in Miami, Florida) is interesting both for its uniformly good cast (Lloyd Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Edward Asner, Anne Francis, Tony Bill, Donna Mills, Moses Gunn, Robert Reed) and its denouement which may or may not be what it may or may not purport to tell. I've watched it a few times (on YouTube) and still can't figure out what's going on so that must count for something.

November 30, 2013

They Shall Have Music (1939)

Knowing how heart-breaking Andrea Leeds (Academy Award nominee for Stage Door who only made several films) can be, I decided to sit down and watch They Shall Have Music (the one she made with Joel McCrea) when I saw it posted (in its entirety) to YouTube. But in fact, the real stars are Gene Reynolds (who grew up to become a producer/writer/director of the television series M*A*S*H) as a kid from the streets and Jascha Heifetz, the famous violinist, who teaches Reynolds about music; Leeds and McCrea don't even enter the story until almost 45 minutes into the movie. Still, it's a very sweet film with many long musical, classical interludes (including opera) and a child actors in Reynolds and Diana Lynn who knows how to unlock your tear ducts.

November 24, 2013

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

I'm not sure what gives Theodora Goes Wild classic status as I find it slow moving, contrived and forced. Irene Dunne is fine as the prim author of a '50 Shades of Grey' type (by 1936 standards) best seller but this screwball comedy is neither of those. Melvyn Douglas plays a dastardly reporter (is there any other kind?) whose romance with the titular Theodora is as inexplicable as it is unbelievable.

July 30, 2013

The Blooming of Hepburn's Calla Lilies

The calla lilies are in bloom again darling, really they are is the most famous line that Katherine Hepburn never said, although in the 1937 film Stage Door Hepburn does say quite mournfully:
The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day, and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Hepburn, playing novice Terry Randall working her first part on Broadway, cues her famous line reading from Andrea Leeds (born August 14, 1914), playing celebrated yet perenially out of work Kay Hamilton who rips your soul when she reads the calla lily line for Hepburn and then ascends the stairs in her climactic scene, remembering that somewhere, somehow, I had the idea that I was a pretty good actress. Leeds snagged an Oscar nomination for her work but retired a scant two years later, living privately until her death in 1984.

July 19, 2013

Ted (2012)

If you can imagine a comedy in which overused 80s references masquerade as jokes, a romance in which Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg have no chemistry and a script which doesn't recognize that its story has two magical wishes (not one), you can imagine Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at something. If you can imagine characters having less substance than a teddy bear filled with cotton, Ryan Reynolds and Patrick Warburton as a gay couple and Norah Jones fucking, you can imagine Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at something. If you can imagine all this, you've got the most notable aspects of Ted, Seth McFarlane's attempt at ... oh, a first movie.

July 16, 2013

The Newsroom (2013)

I wouldn't call The Newsroom (now into Season 2) smart. The soap opera antics of the news team - Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill and Olivia Munn (who doesn't act well) - are mundane, the dialog is based in references not character and, excepting what one might learn about how a newsroom operates, the stories are uninvolving - even though based in relevant and exciting past history. This is the first Aaron Sorkin work I've seen and I'm not impressed.

July 13, 2013

Oldboy (2003)

The 35% of Americans who want Sarah Palin back in elected office would be disgusted, appalled and threatened by the themes of Oldboy so, they will undoubtedly miss it's thought-provoking madness and violent, cringe-inducing landscapes. Director Park Chan-wook follows Oh Dae-su (magically and athletically played by Choi Min-sik) from teenager to oldboy, recounting how fifteen of those years were spent locked in a sealed studio apartment with only food and television. This simplistic extract does no justice to the film though because it is a linear telling unlike the visceral, tightly edited film itself.

July 11, 2013

Oklahoma! (1955)

This may be musical theatre sacrilege but after seeing Oklahoma! for the first time, I type meh. Most of the recognizable Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are wonderful, the Agnes DeMille dances extraordinary and Fred Zinnemann's direction sterling but I just didn't believe the dated book (including the central Laurey/Curley/Jud triangle) so I found myself losing interest as the two and a half hours wore on...and on. Shirley Jones (especially good in her film debut despite it all), Charlotte Greenwood (especially good), Gordon MacRae (good), Rod Steiger(!?) and Gloria Grahame (miscast yet quirky enough to love) kept me watching but at the end I could've said no.

July 8, 2013

Man Of Steel (2013)

My penis was very happy to have seen Man Of Steel starring the man of steel Henry Cavill. My brain, on the other hand, had to deal with the craptastic story that makes Jor-El (Russell Crowe) a hypocrite and gives the Krypton back story 45 bloated minutes of screen time in addition to another ten minutes in which ghost Jor-El retells the whole story to the adult Kal-El/Superman in the fortress of solitude. Amy Adams is fine as Lois Lane but spending two hours staring at the shirtless pics below will give you the same charge I got in the movie theatre minus the 90 decibels.

July 7, 2013

World War Z (2013)

First and foremost, World War Z is not a zombie movie but more of an international thriller with zombies. I use thriller loosely because there's not many thrills in it although the computer-generated wall-crawling zombies are decent enough. Brad Pitt and company have created a treacly family story out of Max Brooks' report so if you want to lose yourself in zombie realness, read the book instead.

July 4, 2013

Anna Nicole (2013)

Although looking more like Jenny Garth than the eponymous star, Agnes Bruckner injects empathy (and really good intoxication!) in Anna Nicole, a 2013 Lifetime biography that manages to be classy AND tawdry. Procuring the services of Martin Landau, Virginia Madsen and Cary Elwes helped round out a good ensemble as did procuring the prosthetics team that worked on Bruckner's tits - which look spectacular! Not as bad/good as Valley Of The Dolls or good/bad as Mommie, Dearest but it's watchable and involving and Anna Nicole Smith, the woman, would be proud.

July 1, 2013

The Thick Of It (2005) & Veep (2012)

The Thick Of It (season 1), a television series involving British politics, gave birth to Veep, a television series involving American politics - both created by the seemingly indestructible Armando Iannucci. With Veep (season 1/2) there is the joy of seeing Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing another semi-distasteful, pseudo-likable, nuanced, cringe-inducing character (this time the Vice President of the United States) while The Thick Of It gives a less cringe-inducing (and more milquetoast) Chris Langham (as the Minister of Social Affairs) and throws in a learning curve in British politics as well (for this American anyway). Both series are very funny with great supporting casts, vivid characters, incredible NSFW epithets and storyline similarities but I did find myself laughing harder and louder while watching Veep - which must be the Louis-Dreyfus curve.

June 30, 2013

A Woman's Face (1941)

Sympathetically villanous Joan Crawford looks younger and fresher (after plastic surgery by one Dr. Melvin Douglas) in A Woman's Face, a 1941 potboiler helmed by female diva director George Cukor. Joan Crawford is mesmerizing in black and white both while scarred and when beautiful once again. The story isn't all that involving but the film is strikingly shot and ultimately lead to Crawford's casting in the quintessential Mildred Pierce.