Monday, January 07, 2008

Movie Diary November-December 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. The African Queen (1951, John Huston). Well, just one of the best movies ever made. Exciting, funny, touching, and thoroughly entertaining. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn at the peak of their form.
  2. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming). Well, another classic that can't really be any better. My favorite part is when Bert Lahr sings, " 'F I Were King." Yes, the flying monkeys still creep me out.
  3. The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966, Norman Jewison). This is the movie that made me fall in love with Alan Arkin when I was young. A great cast, a sparkling script, and a refreshing message.
  4. This Sporting Life (1963, Lindsay Anderson). Turgid drama starts out unpleasantly and goes downhill from there.
  5. Stage Fright (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). Hitchcock and Marlene Dietrich? I was so there. Unfortunately, I was so out of there when the hero insisted on behaving like an idiot within the first five minutes of the film.
  6. City for Conquest (1940, Anatole Litvak). Jimmy Cagney plays the sap for so-not-worth-it Ann Sheridan. With Donald Crisp as the world's only honest boxing manager, Arthur Kennedy as a George Gershwinesque composer, and an amazingly good-looking Elia Kazan as a hood.
  7. Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer). In college, I actually met one of the men who wrote the play on which this is based. He was a pompous windbag, but this is an interesting, though preachy, film nonetheless. I love Gene Kelly as the cynical H. L. Mencken stand-in. Why didn't he get to do more straight drama?
  8. King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper). Despite the outdated special effects, the original is still the best, although we really didn't need to see Kong battle every prehistoric creature on the island and oh my God somebody make Fay Wray stop screaming. Still, the scene with Kong battling the planes on the Empire State Building remains one of the most affecting in cinema.
  9. Green for Danger (1946, Sidney Gilliat). Police inspector Alastair Sim enlivens this conventional whodunit in a rural English hospital during WWII.
  10. The Edge of the World (1937, Michael Powell). Worthy but dull look at the depopulation and abandonment of a remote Scottish island.
  11. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Charming, eccentric story of English soldier Roger Livesey, his friendship through two world wars with German officer Anton Walbrook, and his three loves, all played by Deborah Kerr.
  12. The Catered Affair (1956, Richard Brooks). Bette Davis is terrific in an extremely uncharacteristic role in this earnest drama from a Paddy Chayevsky play about working-class New Yorkers. I regret I didn't get to see the seond half -- maybe I'll Netflix this.
  13. The Women (1939, George Cukor). Fabuluous production of the Clare Booth Luce play, with star power to burn. Despite her ridiculous eyebrows and stagy gestures, Norma Shearer plays the wronged wife with grace and dignity. The message, feminist for its time, doesn't hold up today, but the sparkling dialog certainly does.
  14. A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood). Inspired lunacy. Stayed up just long enough to see the famous stateroom scene, which is good cause it gets rid of most of that pesky singing.
  15. The Captain's Paradise (1953, Anthony Kimmins). I laughed in places, but the whole thing is so slimily sexist I'm ashamed of myself. Although Alec Guinness gets his comeuppance for not letting his madonna be a whore and vice versa, the leering hero worship of his first officer and the roguish way in which he escapes at the end robs it of any moral force. And I still want to know why his uncle came out from England to talk to him.
  16. Whiskey Galore (1949, Alexander Mackendrick). Story of 50,000 cases of whisky shipwrecked on an island wrung dry by wartime shortages has comic possibilities, but starts off too slow. Got interrupted midway through and never went back. As always, enjoyed Joan Greenwood; also starring a very young Gordon Jackson.
  17. Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird). Cute, but I couldn't get over the inherent grossness of a rat in the kitchen. My sister and I had to close our eyes any time Remy's relatives swarmed. Subplot about Linguini's inheritance and the rascally Skinner seemed unnecessary and contrived. Some stunning animation, particularly the sequences where Remy is swept through the sewers. Peter O'Toole grand as always.
  18. The Incredibles (2004, Brad Bird). Amazing, well-written animated feature about displaced superheroes. Great voice work by Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, and Samuel L. Jackson, but I loved loved loved Brad Bird as superdesigner Edna Mode.
  19. Talladega Nights (2006, Adam McKay). Started out well, but then OH MY GOD THE PAIN MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP. I will confess I liked that they named the kids Walker and Texas Ranger. Sacha Baron Cohen as rival driver Jean Girard has the funniest French accent since Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau.
  20. The History Boys (2006, Nicholas Hytner). Surprisingly touching and effective film about a group of working-class boys prepping for Oxbridge entrance exams and the two teachers struggling for their souls. What impressed me is that the film doesn't side with either the love-learning-for-it's-own-sake professor (Richard Griffiths) or the just-give-the-right-answers coach (Stephen Campbell Moore), but allows them both to be partly right, to have their own strengths and flaws. Frances de la Tour, who looks like a downmarket Diana Rigg, gives one compelling but out-of-place speech about women in history. My sister and I have continually quoted this movie to each other ("Ici un hopital en Belgique." "He loved werds. He loved LITrachure.")
  21. Notorious (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). Hands-down, my favorite movie of all time. Damn, Cary Grant is sexy when he's surly.
  22. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz). Well, it was just "give Muse a present" night at TCM as they unrolled three of my faves. Dynamic, sexy, taut, and suspenseful from start to finish, with Humphrey Bogart in the role he was born to play. And quotable? The whole move is one big quotefest.
  23. Now, Voyager (1942, Irving Rapper). Yes, again. Now shut up and pass the tissues, please.
  24. Night Nurse (1931, William A. Wellman). Interesting early Barbara Stanwyck effort, with Clark Gable in a rare, very sexy, villainous role. You know it's pre-Code when the happy ending involves Stanwyck's bootlegger boyfriend getting Gable anonymously rubbed out.
  25. The Shop Around the Corner (1940, Ernst Lubitsch). The original and still the best of the clashing-coworkers-who-secretly-yen-for-each-other flicks. Tough and glamorous Margaret Sullavan holds her own with strong and stubborn Jimmy Stewart. Frank Morgan also does a great job as the store owner.
  26. In the Good Old Summertime (1949, Robert Z. Leonard). Transplants The Shop Around the Corner from Budapest to Chicago, shedding its charm and wit as well as any pesky controversial topics like adultery and attempted suicide. Judy Garland and Van Johnson just can't hold a candle to Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart.
  27. Wild Boys of the Road (1933, William A. Wellman). I could see its good intentions, but I just wasn't held by this story of teenagers riding the rails in the Depression.
  28. A Christmas Carol (1938, Edward L. Marin). Boring, not very faithful version of the Dickens classic. Reginald Owen is no Alastair Sim.
  29. Meet John Doe (1941, Frank Capra). Intermittently effective Capracorn about the plight of the average guy (Gary Cooper!) during the Depression. Barbara Stanwyck is at her best, sexy, ruthless, but vulnerable, and Edward Arnold is quietly menacing as the shadowy financier controlling the operation. Setpiece in the middle, where a fleeing Doe confronts the scale of the movement he's started, really drags down the film. Walter Brennan, of all people, gives a surprising cogent definition of karma burden.
  30. Young Mister Lincoln (1939, John Ford). Dull courtroom drama whose only twist is that the lawyer hero happens to be Abe Lincoln. Despite Henry Fonda's earnest effort, no patch on the infinitely superior Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
  31. Roberta (1935, William A. Seiter). Incognito Russian princess Irene Dunne sings, and sings, and sings -- including that well-known Russian folksong, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Other than that, this is a cheerful and likeable movie with some early Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers sparkle.
  32. A Christmas Carol (1984, Clive Donner). Clunky remake tries to delve more deeply into Scrooge's psychology, not entirely successfully. George C. Scott is no Alastair Sim either, but he does OK with what he's given. Also features appearances by David Warner (was he really ever that young?) and Roger Rees (gee, he was pretty).
  33. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Michael Curtiz). See my earlier post re: Errol Flynn in tights. I just love how Claude Rains purrs his lines.
  34. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936, Michael Curtiz). Snoozerama tries to recast the disastrous Crimean War battle as a triumph. Errol Flynn should have stuck to tights.
  35. How Green Was My Valley (1941, John Ford). Beautiful, evocative story of Welsh coalminers. The ever-solid Donald Crisp is impressive as the patriarch Gwilym Morgan, and Maureen O'Hara is stunningly beautiful as Angharad. I'm just mad that Mr. Gryffudd (Walter Pidgeon), who turns away Angharad's love, is presented as a martyr, when he's really a moral coward.
  36. It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra). See post to come.
  37. Meet Me in St Louis (1944, Vincente Minelli). Like the youngest Smith sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), a really schizophrenic movie: half winsome and half gruesome. Where was Anna Freud in 1904? because that kid really needs a shrink. However, Judy Garland has never looked more beautiful, and the songs are glorious.
  38. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Paul Greengrass). The Muse ultimatum: stop making these lousy movies. Boring, nonsensical, and LOUD.
  39. The Namesake (2005, Mira Nair). Visually stunning but overly long saga of Indian-American identity clearly suffers from the filmmaker's love for, and inability to prune, the source material. Film should have started with Gogol's high school graduation. Good performances from Kal Penn, Irfan Khan, and Tabu.
  40. Stranger Than Fiction (2006, Marc Forster). Much to my own amazement, I really enjoyed this strange examination of reality vs. construct, of cause and effect. Emma Thompson shows great courage in appearing, for most of the movie, like shit; Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah are both likeable, although he's mannered and she's dramatically unnecessary. Like many movies set in New York, takes place in a fantasy Manhattan where literature professors and novelists who haven't published in ten years have huge, airy, light-filled offices and apartments.
  41. The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936, John Ford). Worthy drama about Dr. Samuel Mudd, imprisoned for helping John Wilkes Booth. Put me right to sleep.
  42. Up the River (1930, John Ford). Moderately entertaining caper picture about cons who escape to help a pal stay on the straight and narrow. Brash Spenser Tracy and tasty young Humphrey Bogart in early roles.
  43. A Raisin in the Sun (1961, Daniel Petrie). Dated but intense drama of black Chicago family and the American dream. Sidney Poitier's performance as the weak, frustrated Walter Lee is incandescent. And is that really Louis Gossett Jr. as the stuffy George Murchison?
  44. A Star Is Born (1937, William A. Wellman). The original Hollywood fairy tale. Interesting effort, but outshone in every way by the 1954 Judy Garland version.
  45. Small Town Girl (1936, William A. Wellman). Girlfriend, I've said this before: noone blames you for wanting to get out of your boring-ass town. But you don't have to marry some drunken, emotionally abusive (though pretty) asshole to do it. Just buy a train ticket to Boston and get a job!
  46. Over 21 (1945, Charles Vidor). Thought this movie, based on Ruth Gordon's play about her experiences as an Army wife in WWII, would be fun, but no.
  47. Theodora Goes Wild (1936, Richard Boleslawski). Small town authoress (Irene Dunne) writes sexy novel, attempts to maintain secret identity, meets asshole publisher (Melvyn Douglas), mix-ups ensue. Yawn.
  48. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, George Seaton). See post to come.
  49. The Cutting Edge (1992, Paul Michael Glaser). Ah, vintage '90s cheese, nice and ripe. She (Moira Kelly) is a spoiled princess figure skater; he (D. B. Sweeney) is a macho hockey player. Will these two crazy kids be able to get together on the ice and off? If you don't know, you haven't seen many movies, but it's all enjoyable nevertheless. Toe pick.
  50. Tenth Avenue Angel (1948, Roy Rowland). Hokey piece of crap about sad sack New York tenement girl (Margaret O'Brien) whose faith is restored by seeing a cow kneel at midnight. No, I'm not making that up. Young Angela Lansbury is a knockout, though.
  51. I Remember Mama (1948, George Stevens). Sweet, sentimental story of Norwegian immigrants in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Maybe it's the accent, but Irene Dunne has never seemed more natural and less affected to me. Barbara Bel Geddes, on the other hand, with her breathless, Bambi-eyed innocence, drives me quite crazy.
  52. The White Cliffs of Dover (1944, Clarence Brown). Everybody's got a stiff upper lip in this story of Britain during the two World Wars, especially American Irene Dunne.
  53. Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney). Even Stewart Granger in tights could barely keep my eyes open. I thought it was creepy that the hero never told Janet Leigh that they were siblings, but then they turned out not to be siblings after all. That was creepier.
  54. Red River (1948, Howard Hawks). Oh really, Carrie Fisher? You think John Wayne ever made a movie where he didn't think he was the hero? Think again.
  55. The Corsican Brothers (1941, Gregory Ratoff). Utter yawnsville.
  56. The Gay Divorcee (1934, Marc Sandrich). Sheer delight, although Fred Astaire does come off as creepily stalkerish in this as some of his other early roles. No matter what the stars are up to, however, the real comic duo in these films is always Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore. Alice Brady has just Irene Dunne's sniff and giggle, but in her it's supposed to be obnoxious.
  57. Shall We Dance? (1937, Marc Sandrich). Another great one from Fred and Ginger. Of the many great bits, I particularly love when Ginger's little dog gives up on their ostensible walk of the deck. I also really like Jerome Cowan as Ginger's cheerfully amoral manager (although he is kind of a schmuck, at that). Strange to recall how much effort hotels used to put into policing their guests' sex lives.

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