September 27, 2009

Small Sacrifices (1989)

Even at her best, it is difficult to separate Farrah Fawcett, the icon, from Farrah Fawcett, the actress, but, despite this conundrum, the first fair-haired angel is mesmerizing in Small Sacrifices, based on the true story of Diane Downs who shot three of her children in the hopes of gaining the love of a man. Emily Perkins (a personal favorite due to her appearances in the Ginger Snaps trilogy) and John Shea as her daughter and the prosecuting attorney (respectively) are Fawcett's equal in this intelligently scripted and well-directed television miniseries (that is currently out of print but sending me an email will get you a free copy). Small Sacrifices is three hours long so get your bathroom and kitchen desires out of the way as it is so riveting your ass won't leave the chair.

September 25, 2009

The More the Merrier (1943)

You can't go wrong with a picture starring Jean Arthur but The More The Merrier adds the handsomely hunky Joel McCrea and the obligingly ornery Charles Coburn to create an adult (pre-Three's Company) comedy about roommates and love. The classic George Stevens directed the picture (about a housing shortage in World War II era Washington, DC) which, despite its age, still works. Watch for the rooftop scene and the scene where Jean and Joel walk home from their first date - if only they made movies this naively erotic and oddly romantic today!

September 23, 2009

Idiocracy (2006)

Yes, Idiocracy is a screamingly funny movie about two people who wake up five hundred years into the future and find the U.S. of A. peopled (and run) by idiots but it's also prescient. Compare Joe Wilson's recent outburst in the hallowed halls of Congress to this film's House of Representin' or, compare Judge Judy and The Jerry Springer Show to this film's courtroom scene or, compare the health care reform fight to this film's takeover of the F.D.A., and you get a clear picture of where our country is headed. Writer/director Mike Judge pulled it off with great assistance from Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph, arguably the best thing about the movie.

September 20, 2009

The Golem (1920)

If the story told in The Golem moved any slower it would be running backwards. Despite its reputation as a horror classic and pre-cursor to James Whale's 1931 film Frankenstein, Paul Wegener's (director and monster) film is overwrought, overacted and seemingly anti-Semitic - not surprising as it is, after all, a German silent film. The most interesting things about the film (whose story of reanimation is steeped in Jewish folklore) are its expressionistic sets, the cinematography by Karl Papa Freund, and the similarities it holds with the real time horror classic Pumpkinhead - yes, I wrote Pumpkinhead.

September 19, 2009

Easy Living (1937)

Easy Living is a genuinely daffy, Preston Sturges-written, Mitchell Leisen-directed laugh riot. Jean Arthur as the girl who gets bonked on the head by a sable (or is it kilonsky?) fur coat (starting a chain of events that leads to a stock market meltdown) demonstrates why she is one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. Edward Arnold and Ray Milland round out the triumverate exquisitely in this screwball classic that finally gave auteur Sturges enough clout to direct the next screenplay he wrote and Hollywood was never the same.

September 9, 2009

Children of the Night (1991)

Had I ever seen Buffy, The Vampire Slayer I might think Children of the Night is quite like it: a different take on the vampire legend, well made, decent acting and interesting enough to keep you watching. It's also got Karen Black which is a plus. Although it teeters on camp I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it - even the poster has camp...I mean, class.

September 8, 2009

Quarantine (2008)

From the first shot of cutsie reporter Jennifer Carpenter to the next shot of the here-to-fore unseen television news camera man you realize that Quarantine (the remake of [REC] a nail-biting Spanish horror film in which for one, the camera man is never seen) has been homogenized; the former is a problem, the latter not so much. The rest of the movie is almost a scene by scene (as I recall) copy of the original with this unappealing woman at the center and a story that bypasses the religious issues of the original to appease a larger American audience. This is commerce, not art - go with [REC].

September 7, 2009

Michael Clayton (2007)

Michael Clayton is an excellently creepy drama about corporate greed with a smartly written, complex story and characters. George Clooney has probably never been better and Tilda Swinton deservedly won an Oscar for her role. The only downside was the unwelcome (but admittedly small) supporting performance from Michael O' Keefe; ironically the second actor in the movie to play a romantic interest to Jackie in the situation comedy Roseanne with Clooney being the first.

September 6, 2009

Troop Beverly Hills (1989)

A red-headed Shelley Long is the pampered leader of a bunch of pampered Wilderness Girls in Troop Beverly Hills, an obvious but nonetheless fun fish out of water comedy that seems to have taken on cult status; it came almost two years before the first episode of Beverly Hills 90210. There are no real laugh out loud moments and Long's character is just a jump away from Diane in Cheers but somehow it works - maybe its the outlandish Beverly Hills clothing that Phyllis Nefler wears or watching her Do The Freddie in high heels or getting soused on Evian water. Betty Thomas and Mary Gross add to the tension (or lack thereof) as the villains, and the Cookie Time rap is classic in a family B-movie sort of way.

September 5, 2009

Vantage Point (2008)

Everyone in Vantage Point is trying really hard to make this an important movie but in the end it spends too much time literally rewinding and rehashing the same story from a different camera angle. Ridiculous plot elements (like overweight Forrest Whitaker keeping up with, and recording, the Secret Service as they chase the bad guys or Dennis Quaid emerging unscathed from a horrendous car crash) add to the overall mediocrity of this Run, Lola, Run (which it kind of, maybe, resembles) knock-off. Ultimately, the movie lacks any complexity and the ending is a lot of Hollywood nothing.

September 4, 2009

Party Wire (1935)

Party Wire is pure, unadulterated Jean Arthur as illustrated by her line to the bank president upon being fired from her job: Don't worry. Christmas is coming. Maybe your wife will give you a dog collar. The story concerns small town gossips (who get their information from the telephonic party line) and, surprisingly, apes the much later written and produced Harper Valley PTA. The movie is well made and somewhat unusual with a cautionary conclusion that is still relevant today.

September 3, 2009

Public Hero #1 (1935)

Cutie (especially when his hair is messed) Chester Morris is Public Hero #1 after he goes undercover to stop the Purple Gang from marauding the country. The exquisite Jean Arthur enters the melee as the sister of the gang's leader and G-man love interest. The movie is very dated but it is interesting how they made the criminal a hero post motion picture code - and, of course, I do love me some Jean Arthur!

September 2, 2009

Ghost Town (2008)

The best thing about Ghost Town is seeing a romance between a man (Ricky Gervais) and a woman (Tea Leoni) that is not marred by a twenty year age difference. The movie is a sweet, fantastical ghost story with three appealing stars (including Greg Kinnear) and some intelligence. It's not the best of its genre (that honor probably goes to Heaven Can Wait) but it's in there trying all the way, for which it earns an extra star.

September 1, 2009

Bonneville (2006)

Joan Allen, Kathy Bates, and especially Jessica Lange (who is heart-breaking in her role) are the triumvirate who give Bonneville its gas. These actresses bring the laughs and tears to this story about a road trip across country with an urn of cremated remains. It's not the most original movie I've ever seen but it's sweetly life-affirming and well done.