Thursday, July 4, 2019
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
Well, this was a bit of fun.
The Marx. Bros had been in Hollywood a full decade by the time (Marx Bros.) At the Circus (1939) was released. It''s basically not all that different from A Night at the Opera or other Marx Bros. outings, at least in format. There's a Groucho song, Harpo plays the harp, Margaret Dumont (bless her) plays the wealthy dowager. There's a couple in love who have a song or two that would have gone to Zeppo and someone else back in the day. And an antagonist in need of a good come-uppance.
But if you're watching ta Marx Bros. film for structure or plot, something has gone terribly wrong.
All in all, the circus is a terrific setting for the Marx Bros, animals and acrobats and all, setting up an ideal finale under the big top. There's stunts and great visual gags, a flying Margaret Dumont, and a gorilla. How can you not like it?
It doesn't hit the levels of absurdity that Duck Soup reaches, but nothing does.
One thing I find curious about the Marx Bros. movies is that some, such as this one, contain scenes with all-Black casts plus a Marx Bros or three. It's not unheard of for this in other movies, but clearly they were trying to bring people to the screen who weren't always there. You always cringe a little when you're not sure we're not going to wind up in Blackface (they do in at least one picture), but not here.
The movie also has a terrific scene with Groucho and a very young Eve Arden that now has one of my favorite "breaking the fourth wall" moments in a movie as he bemoans how he doesn't know how to do the scene without trouble from the Hayes Office.
Anyway - we were going back and forth about what makes comedy work, what makes it feel like a movie versus comic actors just doing their thing as the camera rolls, and I'd argue, come back to a Marx Bros movie for what's possible on the screen.
Format: TCM on DVR
Everyone but me has seen this movie, but we were staying in on a Saturday and it seemed like a good option for a bit of a light movie and to check off a viewing box.
Somehow, until about two years ago, it had escaped my notice that Sabrina (1954) was actually a Billy Wilder film, and so I wanted to give it a real shot, and I'm glad I did - it did surpass whatever bar I'd set for the movie. The movie isn't exactly what I expected, which was to see two brothers in escalating conflict, trying to win over Audrey Hepburn. You can read that as: I didn't want to watch two middle-aged guys duking it out over an ingenue for 2 hours - but it's not really that.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Format: Noir Alley TCM on DVR
The core idea of this movie is so... evil... I almost think it'd make for a swell comedy.
Ann Sothern - a sort of "America's sweetheart" of the era - plays a woman who murders her own sister but can pin it on her brother-in-law. BUT! Her niece saw the whole thing, so she won't go to the gas chamber, she's in a race to kill the little girl before Nancy Davis (read: Nancy Reagan) helps the the little girl recover her memory.
I mean, you can imagine the Looney Tunes quality of repeated murder set-up after murder set-up to kill a bright-eyed little girl who is working through her cloudy memories by playing dolls with Nancy Reagan.
This movie plays it straight, is a lesser entry in everyone's resume but that of child actor Gigi Perreau (still living, people!), and is good enough as yet another entry in the "psychology is a an alchemical force toward unlocking the mind" films of the era. It does co-star a pre-Ronald-betrothed Nancy Davis, who is better than I figured she'd be, but still very much Nancy Reagan.* It does not feature nearly enough Zachary Scott, whom I always like.
My favorite scene is one where Sothern poisoned the little girl's chocolate milk and it seems like anything can happen in this particular set-up, shot from the kids' eye level as her friend wanders in to see why she isn't drinking her milk. Just great stuff.
*I'm sorry - the lady just seemed like a scold all the time when I was a kid, and she feels that way here, too
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: 4th or 5th
Flat out, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the most influential and best adventure films ever made.
Everything that came before it led up to it, and everything after stands in its shadow. If you think superhero movies pitting quippy rogues in brightly colored outfits standing up against despotic thugs grasping for power is a new thing, my friend, have I got a movie for you.
Even by modern standards the film is a marvel - maybe especially so. There's no wires, no wire removal, no CGI versions of Errol Flynn leaping onto a horse with his hands tied behind his back. That's just dudes in tights doing some crazy stunts for your entertainment. And it's far from just Flynn - it's an army of actors and performers jumping out of trees, swinging on ropes, and buckling swashes. The pacing is rapid, especially for 1938, and sets the standard for today's adventure movies, but the dialog is 95% better than most films of its type - intentionally cheesy in many parts, lots of "look, we're pretending to be Ye Olde British People", but - at its heart - the movie will always resonate, as will the story of Robin Hood, of standing up for a nation and all people over the avarice and cruelty of those who would crush others to live with more than they can ever use.
As you can guess, the silent era figured out that you could get in audiences with wild stunts - actions speaking louder than title cards, after all. Douglas Fairbanks was one the great stars of the era, his Zorro and other characters bouncing all over the screen, jumping off and on horses, swinging from anything that could bear their weight. It's a hell of a thing to watch, and still absolutely thrilling. 1938 is only a decade into the sound era, and here you can see that the language of sound film has found its form. Add in the fact this is in technicolor, popping off the screen, and that Flynn is the definition of "handsome fellow", and it's a movie that takes advantage of everything it's got.
One of those things is Olivia deHaviland, who plays the role of the Maid Marian. This Marian isn't already charmed by the rogue-ish Robin, but is won over by realizing his true loyalty to England, the same which he's inspired in his men, and how he is true to his mission. He's not just robbing to gather a ransom to free his King, he's also caring for the injured and battered who can't fight alongside him. She has her moments of action within the confines of the story and era, and while she'll be given a side-eye perhaps by modern audiences, man, for the time, it's a cheeky role.
We also get Claude Rains as Prince John (just perfectly foppish), Basil Rathbone as utter dirtbag Sir Guy of Gisbourne, and the always wonderful Una O'Connor as Bess - Maid Marian's lady in waiting. And, of course, dozens more.
If you've never seen the movie, I can't recommend it enough. It'll genuinely make you wonder why, between this and the Disney version, the past thirty years we've been handed somber, depressing versions of the story. Part of the joy of the movie is Robin Hood's joy and good humor in the face of danger. He's not an anti-hero out for vengeance, he's a hero in search of justice. And Maid Marian.
So get ready for sword battles, archery, skullduggery and men in tights leaping from trees.
I give it five thumbs up.
You'd think I'd have less to say on a third viewing of the movie, but I was genuinely surprised how much more I liked this film on a third viewing. In many ways, I now think the ad campaign for Captain Marvel and my prior knowledge of the character really got in the way of seeing a lot of what the movie does in bringing us along on Carol's journey - frankly, showing the destruction of the Kree ships in the trailer was crazy and shouldn't have happened.
And while I liked and appreciated the messages the movie makes regarding Carol coming into her own and pushing out the voices of those who would contain and control her - this time I also got a much better feel for the step-by-step journey to Carol's always intact sense of justice and the slow transformation to trusting herself as she learns what sort of people/ aliens she should be trusting.
I've made comment before that it's super-fun to have a Superman-level hero in the Marvel movies, it's also a joy to have someone who reflects the core of what's made Superman stand out since the inception of the character: someone with the moral centering to do the right thing who has the power to act on it without compromise or fear for their own skin, and who will not use that power for self-gain.
Anyway - fun to rewatch the movie again (and, I am sure, again and again in the future).
Friday, June 28, 2019
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
A bit of lighter, post-war crime drama.
Garfield plays a former con-man coming back to New York to reclaim the girl he left when he enlisted, and the wad of money he left in her hands. She's thrown in with a club-owner and spent the money, and so he heads out to LA to reconnect with an old friend.
Running into some pre-war fellow goons, he's turned onto a scheme to rip-off a wealthy widow, who turns out to be less tired old lady and instead the lovely Geraldine Fitzgerald. Trouble ensues.
The movie is so light in places and features so many comedic bits, it barely feels like noir - but structurally, it fits the bill. Nothing ground-breaking here, but Garfield shows his chops as a strong leading man, and we get some great character actor performances and Fitzgerald demonstrates why she flirted with major stardom.
Watched: 06/17 and 06/20/2019
Viewing: Second and unknown
Format: DVD and BluRay
It's "Teens in Space"! We get far out with one kinda-grounded adventure featuring some kids on an unscheduled voyage and then find trouble in Rylos City as playing video games actually DOES turn out to be a life skill (if you want to murder anonymous aliens). Join MRSHL, Maxwell and Ryan as we keep our feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.
Last Starfighter Fanfare - Craig Safan, Last Starfighter OST
In Orbit - John Williams, Space Camp OST
High School Movies Playlist
Format: TCM on DVR
A fascinating oddball of a movie - part epic, part recreation, part disaster film, part meditation on the futility of war, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) is an all-star retelling the of the real life events leading up to, and a recreation of, the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Originally this was supposed to be two separate movies, one Japanese and one American. And it almost is - the Japanese parts were directed by Japanese directors (Kurosawa was notoriously fired off the film!), and the American parts: an American director. I can only wonder how that would have worked in practice, perhaps better. Both sections reflect the mistakes made along the way - failure of diplomacy, duplicitous use of diplomatic formalities, bureaucratic loggerheads, etc... Each section reflects back the stance of the home country on what happened at Pearl Harbor in tone and approach, which can make for something of a split-personality to the film that doesn't always work, but probably informs the viewer in 2019 what was felt a generation after the war.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
The kids are never going to know that there is, literally, in the public consciousness, a world before Tim Burton's Batman from back in '89, and a world that came into being after that movie.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Batman, the Michael Keaton/ Kim Basinger/ Jack Nicholson-starring gothic caricature that changed the public's perception of superheroes in general. This isn't hyperbole - nothing was ever the same after this movie came out. You don't get an Iron Man or Avengers without Batman. You really don't get the idea out to the general public that comics have moved to a teens-and-up audience until you get breathless write-ups about the Batmania phenomenon. You also don't have piles of merchandise for adults with a superhero logo on it until Batman, or comics movie-related toys flying off the shelf.
But, mostly, you finally got people to stop thinking "Bam! Whap! Pow!" when they thought about superheroes.