Movie Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)


Title: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Release Date: June 22, 1988
Director: Robert Zemeckis, Richard Williams (animation director)
Production Company: Touchstone Pictures | Amblin Entertainment | Silver Screen Partners
Summary/Review:

I was 14 when Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released and greatly anticipated seeing the movie having always loved animation and in the midst of a phase where I was obsessively watching old Warner Bros. shorts.  When I finally did see the movie, I was disappointed.  I found Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to be annoying, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) to be overly creepy (especially in his ultimate demise), and everyone using the term “toons” to be overly affected. I feel like the movie was poorly received at the time, but it has been reconsidered as a classic so I had to watch it again.

Revisiting the movie as an adult I find that I have a better frame of reference for the film noir pastiche which is well done.  I also appreciate incorporating the real-life story of powers-that-be wanting to dismantle the Los Angeles streetcar system and build freeways.  The anti-car ethos resonates with me. Bob Hoskins does an excellent job as the gruff straight man portraying detective Eddie Valiant investigating the murder of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) and why Roger Rabbit was framed for the killing.

This movie, of course, wows with the technical brilliance of incorporating animated characters into live action with a level of reality never before achieved (and never since as computer animation soon became the dominant form of the art).  There’s a scene where Eddie enters Toon Town for the first time and drives through the psychedelic world of toon’s singing “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!” that is absolutely brilliant, and that was my favorite part when I was younger. I kind of wish more of the movie was like that, because for all its technical brilliance, I still don’t find Who Framed Roger Rabbit to be funny for the most part.  And for a family film, it also has a lot of elements that are over kids’ heads.

I definitely like this movie a lot more than I did when I was younger.  Roger Rabbit is still annoying and Judge Doom is still creepy, but there’s a lot of style and mood as well as nods to film history that I can appreciate.  I just feel that this movie had the opportunity to be a whole lot more.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Blue Velvet (1986)


Title: Blue Velvet
Release Date: September 19, 1986
Director: David Lynch
Production Company: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)
Summary/Review:

I’ve long liked the work of David Lynch, but I missed this one so it was good to have an excuse to finally watch it.  The story tells of Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) who returns home from college to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina to help out when his father is hospitalized.  On a walk through the woods he finds a severed ear and becomes obsessed with discovering the mystery behind it.  The daughter of a police detective, Sandy Williams (a very young Laura Dern), informs him that the police suspect a singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected to the case.  Jeffrey begins to surveil Dorothy which leads him into a world of trouble.

I won’t go into the details but Jeffrey uncovers a criminal conspiracy lead by the extremely disturbed Frank (Dennis Hopper). I really enjoyed the first part of the movie when it was  a stylish noir mystery, but once Frank is revealed and Jeffrey is brought into his orbit I found it less interesting.  Frank is an amalgamation of every abusive, gaslighting, self-aggrandizing asshole I’ve ever know and I really don’t need to spend my time watching that.  I was also disappointed that both Dorothy and Sandy tended to fall into the “damsel in distress” trope.  There are reasons for that, but I think there were opportunities to have one of them seize initiative.

Overall though I appreciated that direction, cinematography, and overall mood of the film, which is aided by the selection of great music to fit the scenes.  The acting of all the leads is excellent, even Hopper as the all-too-convincing raging psychopath.  I’m really surprised to learn that Dern is about a decade younger than I realized.  I guess since she was making movies when I was in middle school it didn’t occur to me to realize she’s just a few years older than me.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Maltese Falcon (1941) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter M

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Summary/Review:

I watched The Maltese Falcon several years ago – maybe at The Brattle Theatre or maybe I just borrowed the DVD from the library – and I also read the Dashiell Hammett book it is based upon around the same time.  But I didn’t remember much about it, which is a good thing since it meant I could enjoy the mystery of it once again.  I also felt that I thought the movie was good but not great, so I was also surprised to find I was really enjoying it the second time around.

The Maltese Falcon is a detective story featuring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade.  The movie is considered to be one of the examples of the film noir genre, or at least a predecessor to film noir.  Spade is definitely a morally ambiguous character and it is unclear whether he is actually willing to go along with the criminals’ plans or if he is just playing them.  When he does the right thing at the end of the movie, it seems like he does it more out of spite than justice.

The story begins when a woman, Ruth Wonderly or Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) depending on which version of her life she’s telling, hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan).  When Archer is murdered, Spade finds himself drawn into a plot around finding the titular MacGuffin, a medieval figurine covered in valuable gemstones.  Also seeking the Maltese Falcon are conman Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and mobster Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).

This was John Huston’s first film as a director, and despite the detective story, it is not really an action film.  In fact, I found it has a lot of unexpected parallels to Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is also a book adaptation about people who spend a lot of time talking but rarely speak the truth.  Subtext is key in the battle of wits among Spade, Brigid, Cairo, and Gutman.  The film succeeds because of the high quality acting of its cast.  Surprisingly, this was Greenstreet’s first film, while Lorre was just making his way into American films, and even Bogart was just becoming an A-list celebrity.  They’re firing on all cylinders in this film and the trio would reunite in Casablanca the following year, and Greenstreet and Lorre would make a total of nine movies together!

For whatever reason, this movie failed to make a big impression on my around 17 years ago.  But upon revisiting this movie I feel it has earned a spot among my favorite movies of all time.

Rating: ****1/2

TV Review: WandaVision (2021)


Title: WandaVision
Release Date: 2021
Creator :Jac Schaeffer
Director: Matt Shakman
Episodes:9
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

WARNING: This review contains light spoilers, so if you’re sensitive to spoilers and not watched all 9 episodes of WandaVision, please don’t read.

The Disney+ series reunites Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) as a happy couple enjoying domestic bliss in the New Jersey suburb of Westview.  Or are they?  6 of the series’ 9 episodes feature pitch-perfect recreations of tv sitcoms for each decade from the 1950s to the 2000s. But under the facade of the television show there is a reality shadowed in mystery and a lot of creepiness.

Olsen and Bettany do a great job in showing their acting range showing their ability to capture the nuance of old sitcom banter and then shift into more serious and emotional behavior.  The series uses these television genre motifs as a way of exploring grief and the way in which one can find solace in the routine predictability of television entertainment.  Kathryn Hahn is great in her role as Agnes, the nosy nextdoor neighbor.

A lot of the mystery is built up in the first three episodes where it’s really unclear why Wanda and Vision (the latter is supposed to be dead) are starring in these sitcoms.  Is Wanda trapped in someone else’s reality, or is she creating her “vision” of a perfect world?  It’s more complicated than you might think.  We start to get a better idea of what’s going in episode 4 which takes place outside of Westview and involves three supporting characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU): Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), who stole every scene she appeared in Thor and Thor: The Dark World (and does so here); Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), the FBI agent from Ant-Man and the Wasp; and Captain Monica Rambeau of S.W.O.R.D. (Teyonah Parris), whose character appeared as a child in Captain Marvel. It was great to see the three characters step in to lead roles and work together as a team, and I hope Parris returns for future Captain Marvel films.

A familiarity with the MCU is helpful, although not necessary, as it will help with some back story and Easter eggs in the series.  On the other hand, I didn’t get a big twist in a show because it involved the X-Men series of films, which I’ve never watched, and there was plenty of the show that drew on The Scarlet Witch comics which I haven’t read. At an extra metafictional level, Olsen was born into a family where her slightly older sisters were already celebrities from starring on a  popular sitcom.  Maybe the show’s creators thought it was too obvious, but they resisted making any Full House references that I noticed.

For all the creativity and experimenting that went into the series, I felt a little let down by the final two episodes.  The series finale in particularly is mostly a bog-standard MCU punch-em-out.  A lot of the mystery built up over the course of the series is resolved in perfunctory way or misdirections (I really thought that Dottie and the Beekeeper were going to mean something more).  Also, Rambeau, Woo, and Lewis are just spectators. It’s still satisfactory, but just not as good as I grew to expect from the rest of the series.  One thing it does do well though is set up the next phase of the MCU, and I look forward to see what’s coming next.

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Recent Movie Marathon: The Vast of Night (2020)


Happy New Year! Today I’ll be sharing my reviews of a binge watch of recent films (released within the past 18 months or so)!

Title: The Vast of Night
Release Date: May 29, 2020
Director: Andrew Patterson
Production Company: GED Cinema
Summary/Review:

This movie is framed as an homage to The Twilight Zone, called Paradox Theatre in the movie, although stylistically it is far more cinematic than the tv show. The movie is set in a small town in New Mexico in the the 1950s when most people have gathered together to watch the high school basketball game. Two outliers are a pair of teenagers, Fay (Sierra McCormick) who is working her shift as a switchboard operator, and Everett (Jake Horowitz), the DJ at the town’s radio station. Both encounter a strange audio signal on the phones and the radio and begin an investigation that may lead to aliens!

This movie is the antithesis of an action movie with the focus on character studies, intimate moments, and the slow revelation of the source of the mysterious sounds. McCormick is great as the earnest Fay, and Horowitz teeters on the verge of unlikable in his performance as someone whose intellect overshadows his interpersonal skills. The movie is beautifully crafted with impressive tracking shots that establish the locations within the town and remarkable sound design.

I feel this movie is a treat for film buffs but may be less enjoyable if you’re just looking for a popcorn flick.

Rating: ***1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Blow the Man Down (2020)


Happy New Year! Today I’ll be sharing my reviews of a binge watch of recent films (released within the past 18 months or so)!

Title: Blow the Man Down
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Director: Bridget Savage Cole & Danielle Krudy
Production Company: Secret Engine | Tango Entertainment
Summary/Review:

I watched this movie because I’d heard that David Coffin, song leader of The Christmas Revels, appeared in it. Otherwise I had not idea what the movie was about and dang was I surprised. Don’t read any further if you want to be as surprised as I was.

The story is about young adult sisters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor), beginning on the day of their mother’s funeral. They live in a fishing village in Maine where their mother has established a fishmonger’s shop and has had to mortgage their house. Priscilla, the “responsible” older sister worries about how they’re going to keep the house, while Mary Beth, the “wild” one simply wants to get out of the small town.

On the night after the funeral, they argue and Mary Beth goes out to a bar where she hooks up with a man named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). When she observes him acting suspiciously, he attacks her, and she kills him in self-defense. The bulk of the movie is Priscilla and Mary Beth poor attempts to cover up Gorski’s death. This gets them entangled in other town scandals with Enid (played magnificently by Character Actress Margo Martindale), an old friend of their mother’s who runs a brothel out of her B&B.

Over the course of the film, the sisters learn some dark secrets of the village and their mother’s past. Throughout the film we see the actions of three older women who are not to be underestimated. David Coffin and other singing fishermen appear from time to time to sing sea chanties as kind of a Greek chorus. The beautiful setting is a contrast to the quirky mystery at the heart of the movie. In the sense it reminds me of the first season of Broadchurch.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff


Author: Pam Jenoff
Title: The Lost Girls of Paris
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden, Henrietta Meire, and Candace Thaxton
Publication Info: Harlequin Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This novel is set during the final years of World War II and immediately after the war, and tells a story inspired by the true-life experiences of women serving as agent’s in Britain’s Special Operations Executive. The novel alternates perspectives among three different protagonists. Marie is a young woman recruited as an agent who is sent to work undercover in France not long before the D-Day invasions and has to overcome her inexperience and frequent changes of circumstance. Eleanor is the severe leader of the women’s division in France, but her strictness is due to her desire to keep her agents safe both from the enemy and from the government leaders who have no faith in woman doing espionage. 

The final protagonist is Grace, a young widowed American who finds a suitcase in Grand Central Terminal and impulsively takes a dozen photographs of women who prove to be SOE agents. Grace’s growing obsession with trying to find out who the women are and return the photos where they belong doesn’t make much sense and is a drag on the book.  Marie’s story is the most thrilling as she’s actively working in France carrying out missions she wasn’t trained for and hoping to avoid capture.  But Eleanor’s story turns out to be the most profound as it deals with betrayal and personal tragedy.

The book has a better premise than execution, but it was nevertheless an entertaining read.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: Enola Holmes (2020)


Title: Enola Holmes
Release Date: September 23, 2020
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Production Company: Legendary Pictures | PCMA Productions
Summary/Review:

The latest addition to Holmesiana is this movie about Sherlock Holmes’ (Henry Cavill) much younger sister and their mysterious mother (Helena Bonham Carter) who goes missing. It is adapted from the novel The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer. Millie Bobbie Brown stars as Enola Holmes bringing the perfect balance of intelligence and with the naivete and vulnerability of youth. Brown frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the camera directly and also improvised a lot of dialogue, both very risky techniques, but they pay off perfectly in this film. The plot deviates considerably from Springer’s novel although it may incorporate plot details from later books in the series that I haven’t read yet. One main criticism of the film is that it goes on a bit long with several seemingly extraneous scenes after the natural denouement. But overall it’s a fun and clever film that can be enjoyed by the whole family.


Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer


Author: Nancy Springer
Title: The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 2006
Summary/Review:

The upcoming Enola Holmes movie on Netflix made me aware of the existence of this first book in a series about Sherlock Holme’s sister.  I’ve read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes writings and numerous non-canonical works by other writers, and this is definitely a good addition to that body of work.  Enola Holmes is certainly more interesting than the mystery sister introduced in the BBC’s deeply-flawed final series of Sherlock, who also had an odd name starting with E – Eurus.

Enola is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft who grows up isolated at the family’s estate after the death of her father and her mother estrangement with her brothers.  The novel begins on Enola’s 14th birthday when her mother disappears without a trace. Her famous brothers arrive and Mycroft decides to send the non-gender conforming Enola to a finishing school.  Enola decides instead to run away and investigate her mother’s disappearance on her own, stumbling into another mystery along the way.

Springer does a good job avoiding making Enola immediately as intellectually brilliant as her more famous brothers, allowing her to develop these skills over the course of the book.  She also does a good job showing the Holmes brothers dismissive and chauvinistic attitudes – which is straight from Conan Doyle’s characterization – and the restraints Enola has to work with in as a woman in Victorian society.  Although I know the book is a series, I was surprised by the unresolved conclusion. Nevertheless, I would like to read more about Enola Holmes.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Trouble With Harry (1955)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Trouble With Harry
Release Date: September 30, 1955
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Alfred Hitchcock Productions
Summary/Review:

I watched The Trouble with Harry several times in my teen years and found it uproariously hilarious with gorgeous scenery of autumnal Vermont.  I’d went so far as listing it as one of my favorite movies of all time. Granted, my recall isn’t perfect as I also remember a scene set at a barn dance that I must have conflated with some other movie.  Viewing the movie again after several decades, I found it not as laugh out loud funny as I remembered but, nevertheless, an entertaining, well-acted, and clever bit of movie-making.

The trouble with Harry is that he is dead.  With his body found laying supine in a hillside meadow, several people in the nearby town have reason to believe that they are responsible for his death.  Capt. Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) fears he may have shot Harry while hunting, while Miss Ivy Gravely  (Mildred Natwick) thinks it the result of her hitting him on the head with her boot in self-defense after Harry stumbled upon her on a trail.  Bohemian artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) takes a whimsical interest in the whole proceedings, while Harry’s estranged wife Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) feels no regret at becoming a widow.  A very young of Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver fame also appears as Jennifer’s curious son Arnie.

Rating: ****