Classic Movie Review: Lady Eve (1941)


Title: Lady Eve
Release Date: February 25, 1941
Director: Preston Sturges
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

Another day, another screwball comedy.  And this may be the screwiest one yet, because a lot of the plot is simply not at all logical.  But put aside logic and enjoy that gags and you have a good film.

Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) is a shy young man (Fonda is good at playing reserved, but morally-centered characters) and reluctant heir to a brewery fortune. Returning to the U.S. on an ocean liner from the Amazon after studying snakes for a year,  Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) and her stunning cheekbones come into his life.  He falls for her quickly and they’re discussing marriage before the ship even docks.

But there’s a twist! Jean and her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn), are card sharps, and Charles is their mark.  In another twist, Jean legitimately loves him in return, and protects him from being taken by her father.  Nevertheless, when Charles discovers the truth about Jean, he breaks off their relationship.

Learning of a con to swindle wealthy Connecticut families, including the Pikes, Jean jumps at the chance to join in, putatively to get revenge for Charles dumping her.  She pretends to be a British aristocrat named Lady Eve Sidwich, and Stanwyck is absolutely hilarious putting on her posh English accent and mannerisms.  Charles is stunned by Eve’s resemblance to Jean, but rationalizes that Jean would disguise herself better, and thus accepts she’s a different woman.  They fall in love, and humorously,Charles uses the same lines to propose to “Eve” that he used on Jean.

After they marry, things get really weird.  I mean it’s still funny, but also left me saying “huh?”  All in all a good comic film with great performances by Stanwyck and Fonda.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)


Welcome to Harry Potter Week! My daughter became a huge fan of the Wizarding World this year so I’ve spent the past several months revisiting the books and watching the movies (some for the first time). I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the books and movies over the course of seven days.

Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Release Date: November 16, 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

I revisited this movie for the first time in around 17 years. I was reminded that the movie series (as does the book) starts off with a fairly simple plot compared with the intricate world-building it would acquire later.  It was also a reminder that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint were oh-so-little when this all started, and it was an impressive job of casting at that age to get actors who’d do so well over 8 movies and into their adult careers.  Chris Columbus takes a safe-but-boring approach to directing, I think some other directors are more creative and adventurous later in the series, but nevertheless the movie has its charms in bringing the books to life for the first time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Great Dictator (1940)


Title: The Great Dictator
Release Date: October 15, 1940
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: Charles Chaplin Film Corporation
Summary/Review:

13 years after the first “talkie,” Charlie Chaplin finally made his first film with true sound.  And let me tell you, it is very strange to hear Chaplin talking.  But he puts words to good use in this startling satire of Adolf Hitler and fascism. Filming began the same month that World War II began and The Great Dictator appeared in theaters at the same time the Battle of Britain was raging.  Not knowing the full extent of the Nazi horror was justification for turning away Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis in 1939, and yet this movie refers to “concentration camps” by name.

Chaplin plays two roles in this movie. One is a Jewish barber who loses his memory in one of the final battles of the Great War while valiantly aiding Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) secure valuable documents.  20 years later he’s finally recovered and returns to work at his barbershop in the ghetto, unaware of the rise of fascism and the persecution of the Jews.  In this role, Chaplin very much resembles his Little Tramp character in attire.  The barber befriends Mr. Jaeckel (Maurice Moscovich, who liked so much in Make Way for Tomorrow and falls in love with Hannah (Paulette Goddard), who help him adjust to the new situation. Schultz is even able to arrange a brief reprieve of the oppression in the ghetto in recognition of the barber’s heroism in World War I.

Chaplin’s other role is Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomainia, a not at all subtle parody of Adolf Hitler.  Chaplain mimics Hitler’s oratory style, complete with wild arm gestures, in a German-sound gibberish.  His depiction of a power hungry tyrant who is vain, irrational, and stupid feels a bit close to the surface to watch in 2019.  Other parodies target Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and Benito Mussolini as Garbitsch (Henry Daniell), Herring (Billy Gilbert), Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie) respectively.

It is not at all surprising with Chaplin playing two characters that it will eventually lead to mistaken identity.  But what is stunning is the speech the barber delivers in the guise of Hynkel at the film’s conclusion.  All the comedy ceases, and Chaplin essentially speaks as himself for several minutes on peace and unity.  It’s a powerful ending to a film that I’m still amazed even exists.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: In Bruges


Title: In Bruges
Release Date: February 8, 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Production Company: Blueprint Pictures | Film4 Productions | Focus Features | Scion Films
Summary/Review:

In this most bizarre spinoff from the Wizard World of Harry Potter, aurors Percival Graves and Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody are sent to Bruges, Belgium by their boss Lord Voldemort after a hit on Aberforth Dumbledore goes awry.  While there Graves forms a relationship with Fleur Delacour.  Okay, I’m having a laugh here, but this movie shares a lot of actors with the Harry Potter series, and good actors, too.  Apropos, In Bruges is an actors’ movie drawing out a very human, character-driven story against the backdrop of Bruges’ historic medieval city center.

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for about 11 years now, and glad I finally got around to it. I was expecting an over-the-top black comedy crime story like Trainspotting or Intermission. While In Bruges shares qualities with those prior films, it is also quieter and more introspective at times.  Colin Farrel plays the young hitman Ray whose job killing a priest goes wrong and is sent to Bruges with his mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson). While Ken enjoys the holiday as a chance to explore historic Bruges, for Ray the city feels more like purgatory.  He wavers between being suicidal and partying a local petty thief, Chloë (Clémence Poésy) and a dwarf film actor, Jimmy (Jordan Prentice).

Ultimately the movie comes down to a debate of whether or not Ray can be redeemed. Ken, despite being a hardened criminal himself, sees Ray as someone who can make a difference in the world.  On the other side, their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) sees the world in black & white and believes that Ray must be killed to restore order.  It’s a very well-acted film, and even minor roles like pregnant owner of the hotel (Thekla Reuten) where Ray and Ken are staying have clearly defined character moments.  Fiennes does go over the top though towards the films climax, which may be the film’s biggest minus.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Zimbelism (2015) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Z” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Z” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

Title: Zimbelism
Release Date: September 2015
Director:  Jean François Gratton and Matt Zimbel
Production Company: Bunbury Films | Ready to Shoot Studio
Summary/Review:

This biographical documentary focuses on the life and work of freelance photographer George Zimbel.  From the 1950s to the present, Zimbel has taken evocative photographs of celebrities and ordinary people.  Some of his most famous photographs feature Marilyn Monroe, John and Jackie Kennedy on the campaign trail, Harry Truman in his retirement years, and street scenes from gritty old New Orleans.

The Monroe photographs are particularly interesting since they are from a promotional event for the Seven Year Itch with the famous moment of Monroe standing over a subway grate. Zimbel’s photographs are different in that he stands back a bit and captures the sea of other photographers taking their photos, as well as capturing Monroe in a quiet moment thinking to herself between photoshoots.  Zimbel’s street photography of ordinary people is also quite excellent.

One flaw with this movie is that it’s framed with the reading of a series of letters Zimbel exchanged with The New York Times regarding the ownership of a print of a photo of the Kennedys.  The long, snarky letters add nothing to the story and both Zimbel and the Times come of sounding like petty jerks. Oh, and Zimbel really hates digital photography.  He’s entitled to that belief, but until I have the money and space for my own darkroom, I’ll stick with my digital camera.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Finding Vivian Maier tells the story of a street photographer who, unlike Zimbel, received absolutely no recognition during her lifetime.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: **1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier
Y: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Kon-Tiki (1950) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “K” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “K” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Keith Richards: Under the Influence, Knuckleball! and Koch.

Title: Kon-Tiki
Release Date: January 13, 1950
Director: Thor Heyerdahl
Production Company: Artfilm
Summary/Review:

Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl had the idea that the Polynesian Islands could have been settled in ancient times by people from South America.  Most academics rejected the idea that pre-Columbian people could travel such great distances across the ocean.  To prove his hypothesis, Heyerdahl put together a crew, built a boat out of balsa logs in an indigenous style, and set forth from Peru.

The documentary depicts the Kon-Tiki’s 101 day journey across the Pacific as they traveled 6,980 km.  All the footage was shot by the crew themselves with a single 16-mm camera.  They even had a little rowboat so that could film the Kon-Tiki from afar, although they learned to tether the rowboat lest it be left behind!

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

If you’re watching Kon-Tiki in 2019, you probably already know that Heyerdahl was correct and the raft made it safely to the Polynesian islands with all its crew.  What’s surprising is how they did it.  The prevailing winds and current carried the raft westward at a brisk speed, and there was no way to go back.  Being close to the water and without an engine meant that fish came right up to the boat and were pretty easy to capture for food and water.  The downside is that sharks also came close to the raft!  By the time they got to Polynesia, the raft was moving so rapidly in the currents that they couldn’t turn it for landfall, and had to pass several islands before eventually ending up trapped on a reef.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

I  haven’t tried this, but it might pair well with Disney’s Moana which focuses on Polynesian people sailing from island to island on traditional camakau.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: ***


 

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Central Park Five (2012) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “C” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “C” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Cane Toads: An Unnatural HistoryThe Case of the Grinning Cat,  Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Ceasefire Massacre, The Clash: Westway to the World,  and Constantine’s Sword.

Title: The Central Park Five
Release Date: November 23, 2012
Director: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Production Company: Florentine Films
Summary/Review:

I’ve never lived in New York City, but in my comfortable suburb in Connecticut, New York was the center of our news world.  In 1989, the rape and brutal beating of a young woman jogging in Central Park was the topic of discussion.  For many people, the crime was indicative of just how low New York had sunk into unrestrained criminality, and particularly the danger of Central Park (although statistically, the crime wave of the 70s & 80s was on the wane, and Central Park was one of the safest places in the city). The attack on the Central Park jogger and others that night was pinned on a large group of black and Latin teens.  Five of them were sent to prison after they confessed, and for most people, it seemed justice had been served.

This documentary tells the story of the five individuals – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise – who were all around 14-16 years old at the time (the same age I was a the time) and would be arrested and convicted for the crimes.  They tell a story of going out in the park one night amid a wave of other young men, many they didn’t know.  Some of them were violent, throwing rocks at cars and people, and beating up a homeless man. The Central Park jogger was attacked in another part of the park at the same time, and these five teenagers were among those rounded up by the police.

They knew nothing about the rape and beating of the jogger but were held without sleep or food for 24 hours as the police told each individual was being implicated by the others, and the boys felt that they’d be able to go home if they told the police what they wanted to hear.  This ended with videotaped “confessions” that were contradictory and had no details of the actual crime scene. These confessions would be the only evidence used in convicting them.  This is despite the fact that they had alibis of being elsewhere at the time of the attack on the jogger and DNA evidence did not match any of the accused.

The documentary shows that how the Central Park Five became the scapegoats of an angry public outraged by violent crime in New York.  The racial divide of black and brown kids and a white victim played out in a story like the lynchings in the Jim Crow South.  The media reported that the teens claimed that they were “wilding” and bragged of their exploits in their jail cells, which appears to be furthest from the truth. One thing this movie didn’t cover is where the term “wilding” originated from if didn’t come from the teenages themselves.

The Central Park Five would have their convictions vacated after the actual rapist came forward with a confession in 2002.  The movie focuses on how the five had their lives drastically changed by the accusations, trial, and loss of 7 to 13 years of their lives in prison.  They talk movingly of how it still affects them today even as they take positive actions to move on with their lives.  In addition to extensive interviews with the Central Park Five, the filmmakers also interviewed family members, news media figures, and former New York City mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.  Unfortunately, the New York Police Department refused to participate in any interviews although their point of view is included through extensive archival footage.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Last year for the Blogging A to Z Challenge, I watched Koch, about New York City mayor Ed Koch, whose law and order style of governing contributed to the racial divide that played such a big part of the Central Park Five’s case.  Ric Burns (Ken’s brother) made New York: A Documentary which covers a much broader history of the City.  A couple of books that capture the mood of New York City in the 1980s are New York Calling and Greed & Glory.

Source: Amazon Prime Video

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)


TitleOne Hundred and One Dalmatians
Release Date: January 25, 1961
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske,  and Clyde Geronimi
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

One Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of the few Disney movies I actually saw as a child. I remember liking it at the time but didn’t know if it would hold to watching it as an adult.  I was wrong.  After rewatching One Hundred and One Dalmatians, I think it’s one of my favorite Disney animated films of all time.

The movie starts off awkwardly as Pongo the Dalmatian examines women to determine which one is attractive enough to pair off with his “pet” Roger.  He then arranges a meet cute with Anita and her Dalmatian Perdita, and they all settle into a happy domesticity.  These bits and some casual sexism throughout the movie are really the only places it loses points.  The rest is creative, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable.

After Perdita gives birth to 15 puppies, Cruella De Vil storms in and tries to buy them, and when refused by Roger, has them abducted.  I’ve written about how some Disney villains are too one-dimensional and over the top, but if you’re going to take that approach, you do it like Cruella.  She’s just so ridiculously evil and singularly focused on killing puppies to make dog skin coats, that it just works.

A part of the movie that I remember from when I was a child is the twilight bark.  It actually takes up a significant portion of the middle part of the movie, and I don’t think they’d spend that much time on it in a modern-day movie.  But I’m glad they did as it sets up a transition from the domestic scenes to the comedy crime caper portion.  Pongo and Perdita walk from London to Suffolk (that’s 100 miles, I checked on Google Maps) to find their lost puppies and then find 84 more!  Hijinks ensue, and even my preteen boy was laughing and said “this is awesome” under his breath.

Everything just seems to click in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and I said before it’s among the Walt Disney company’s best work.

Some other thoughts:

  • I like how the characters spend so much time watching television, especially since the tv shows tell hilarious stories in their own right.  The puppies watch a Western show about a heroic sheriff dog and the dog-napping henchman what a game show called “What’s My Crime.”
  • Near the end of the movie Roger’s song about Cruella De Vil is playing on the radio, perhaps the first wide release of a diss track.
  • There’s a cow named Princess.  She should be included with the other Disney Princesses, henceforth!
  • In a movie about dogs, Sergeant Tibbs the tabby cat is the real MVP.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Blade Runner (1982)


TitleBlade Runner
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Production Company: The Ladd Company
Summary/Review:

It’s 2019, so it’s time for me to finally watch the 1982 movie that’s set in 2019, Blade Runner.  I should note that on the advice of a fan, I didn’t watch the 1982 release, but the Final Cut released in 2007 (and the last of seven different versions of the movie released).  This means that I  got to watch the movie without poorly written voice-overs and a happy ending that many viewers feel marred the theatrical release.

The story focuses on Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police investigator tasked with finding renegade replicants (synthetic humans designed to work on Earth’s off-world colonies) and “retire” them (kill them).  In this instance, Deckard has to track down four replicants who have come to Earth seeking the secret of elongating their lives beyond the four years programmed into their DNA, and in the process Deckard meets an even more advanced replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) who is initially not aware she’s not human.  Deckard and Rachael form an awkward relationship, while Deckard hunts down the other four and eventually faces off against the renegade replicants leader Roy (Rutger Hauer).

With it being 2019, the predictions of the future are largely inaccurate, but interesting nonetheless (I’m particularly amused that Blade Runner, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Until the End of the World, features video payphones but didn’t foresee portable devices).  The vision of 2019 in this film is of a dark, claustrophobic, yet lonely world. Blade Runner imagines the deteriorating inner cities of the 1970s and 1980s simply left to rot while monolithic buildings for corporations and the wealthy are just built above them.  The set dressing features an incredible amount of trash and dirt which the camera lingers on to make the point. Ironically, American cities like Los Angeles are tidier and shinier than when the film was made for the most part.  Omnipresent advertising lights up the sides of buildings and from looming airships floating low above the city, in one of the more accurate predictions of the real 2019.  This movie must’ve hired armies of extras – or expertly filmed the same packs of extras from clever angles – to fill the set’s streets with the people Deckard must elbow through.  And the people come from all over the world – Chinese predominately, even in the advertising – but I heard a whole lot of languages spoken.  The great achievement of Blade Runner is so thoroughly creating a world that feels real and lived in.

I found the movie very uncomfortable to watch, which is not a bad thing since it is definitely designed to discomfort with its dystopian view of the future and examination of humanity.  It’s good that I did NOT watch this back in the 1980s, because it would’ve totally freaked out my younger self.  Despite having accrued a lot of cultural knowledge of the story over time, there were a lot of WTF! moments that caught me off guard.  I’m particularly haunted by J.F. Sebastian’s “toys” which just plain creeped me out.  Of course, I probably didn’t need to wait until I was 45 to get around to watching this movie for the first time.

Blade Runner is a movie that impresses, although I can’t say that I love it.  There’s definitely some good acting from the three leads and of course the sets and visuals are remarkable. But the story leaves me a bit cold, although I’m not sure if it’s missing something, or if I just can’t cogitate the dystopian themes yet.  Nevertheless, I think I will have to revisit it at some point and perhaps check out some of the alternate versions.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Brave (2012)


TitleBrave
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Production Company: Walt Disney Picture / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Pixar’s story of a rebellious Scottish princess is another instant classic.  Merida enjoys a life where she can spend her time on horse riding and archery and has no interest in her parents’ expectations that she marry a suitor from of the kingdom’s three clans.  The story is very familiar, and one true to life to feudal societies, but it is all a frame to the much more relatable struggles of a her girl with her mother.

Seeking to change Queen Elinor’s mind, Merida asks the help of a hilarious witch – er, wood carver – whose tricky solution is to literally transform Elinor into a bear.  Girl and bear then must face various challenges together that bring them closer together and better understand the other’s point of view.

In addition to a satisfying story, this movie also has a ton of humor, including the comical body movements of characters like King Fergus, Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers, the aforementioned witch, and Elinor’s efforts to learn to be a bear.  It’s also beautifully animated and I was stunned when freezing the movie how lifelike the scene appeared.

If you are like me and haven’t seen Brave up until now, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Rating: ****1/2