Movie Review: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)

Title: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Release Date: February 1944
Director: Preston Sturges
Production Company: Paramount Pictures

During the Second World War, the town of Morgan’s Creek becomes home to several military bases.  Local teenager Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) finds it to be her patriotic duty to attend dances for the servicemen before they leave to go overseas.  One night Trudy loses her memory after a head injury and when she comes to she realizes that she’s married one of the soldiers (and become pregnant!) but can’t remember who it is.  Trudy’s nebbish and 4-F childhood friend Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken) has always been in love with her and agrees to marry her, but Trudy is fearful of being charged with bigamy.

The old-fashioned moral values and gender essentialism are laid on thick in this film, but it took me a while to realize that the excess is in fact a satire of those social mores.  In fact, many of the complex plot points are simply due to having to dance around the Hays code.  Because this movie is both subversive and utterly bonkers, I wanted to like it more than I did.  But the repeated gags of Norval and then Trudy stuttering and the repeated pratfalls were more irritating than funny.  Diana Lynn is hilarious as Trudy’s wisecracking younger sister while William Demarest plays their cranky father, Constable Lockenlocker.

This is the third Preston Sturges film I’ve watched and I do want to watch more!  The long tracking shots of characters walking through the streets are quite impressive.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Author: Sally Rooney
Title: Normal People
Narrator: Aoife McMahon
Publication Info: [S.l.] : Crown/Archetype, 2019.

This novel tells the story of two young Irish people who attend the same secondary school in County Sligo, Ireland.  Connell is a popular, working class student while Marianne comes from a wealthy family but her eccentric demeanor makes her unpopular at school.  They get to know one another because Connell’s mother works as a housecleaner at Marianne’s home.  They start a relationship that they keep secret from their classmates.

Both Connell and Marianne end up studying at Trinity College Dublin where Marianne blossoms and becomes popular while the shyer Connell feels like an outsider. Their paths cross frequently over the years, sometimes rekindling their romance, sometimes fighting.  The story is unsettling because it deals with abuse and the dark side of otherwise likable characters.  The title Normal People is ironic since both of them do not feel normal due to their intelligence and disinterest in what the people their age are typical interested in.  Overall it’s a realistic and compelling narrative.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Before Midnight (2013)

Title: Before Midnight
Release Date: May 24, 2013
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment | Venture Forth | Detour Filmproduction

Another 9 years have passed and Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are spending the summer vacationing in Greece with friends and family, including their twin daughters and Jesse’s son from his previous marriage. Breaking with precedent of the previous films, in the first act of the film we see a lot of Céline and Jesse in group settings rather than one on one.  We also get to see that Ethan Hawke as a dad in Before Midnight is a whole lot like Ethan Hawke as a dad in in Boyhood.

Also breaking with precedent, the heart of the movie leaves behind the beautiful Greek scenery and instead is set in a nondescript hotel room.  Putatively Céline and Jesse are too spend a romantic night together there without the children, but instead it becomes the scene of a bitter argument. Jesse wants to be more involved in his son’s life, but it would require moving to the United States.  Céline is resentful that she’s been forced to take on domestic responsibilities at the expense of her career.  As they unravel their feelings they begin to contend with the idea that they may no longer be in love.

As with the previous movies the dialogue is excellent and Hawke and Delpy really live inside their characters.  Hawke is so good at playing a guy who is kind of an asshole yet remains sympathetic.  This heartfelt and heartbreaking movie is apparently the last we will see of this couple. If the 9 year pattern persisted the fourth movie would be released this year, but alas there will be no B4: Tokyo Drift or anything like that.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Anne of Green Gables (1985)

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Release Date: December 1, 1985
Director: Kevin Sullivan
Production Company: Anne of Green Gables Productions | Sullivan Entertainment | TV-60 Filmproduktion | WonderWorks

I suppose in the end it was a rather romantic way to perish, for a mouse.

Revisiting another movie I loved in my early teen years.  Anne of Green Gables premiered on Canadian television as a miniseries in 1985 but I don’t think we saw it in the US until 1987.

Adapted from the famous novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the film tells the story of the aging siblings Marilla (Colleen Dewhurst) and Matthew Cuthbert (Richard Farnsworth) deciding to adopt an orphan to help on their farm in a rural community on Prince Edward Island.  They’re surprised when instead of boy they receive Anne Shirley (Megan Follows), an imaginative and stubborn 11-year-old given to daydreaming and romanticizing the world around her. The shy Matthew is immediately won over by Anne, while Marilla puts on a show of being a strict guardian but soon also succumbs to Anne’s charms.

Despite being made-for-TV, this is a high-quality production with gorgeous location shots and fantastic period costumes.  But the characters are the best and everyone seems perfectly cast. In addition to the three main leads, Schuyler Grant stars as Anne’s bosom friend Diana, Charmion King plays Diana’s wealthy Aunt Josephine who is amused by Anne, and Jonathan Crombie is Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s rival at school.

It’s fashionable to dismiss things for being overly sentimental, but there’s something about the warmth and sweetness of this story that I really love.  I think we need more kindness and imagination in our world, not less.  Which is why I aspire to be Matthew Cuthbert as I grow older.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Before Sunset (2004)

Title: Before Sunset
Release Date: July 2, 2004
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment

Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) reunite after nine years, this time traveling around Paris as they converse.  Jesse has published a novel based on their night together in Vienna and gives a book talk at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore which Céline.  They then spend the hour before Jesse has to leave for the airport for his flight home having another of their profound conversations (kind of jealous that I’ve never had a conversation like this in my life).  They talk about why they didn’t reunite as planned in Vienna, their regrets about not doing so, how their lives (and their dreams and philosophies) have changed in the intervening years, and their unsatisfying marriages.  Over time the become less guarded and reveal more of their deepest feelings.

Any doubts I had that this movie would ruin the ambiguous ending of Before Sunset were erased by the easy chemistry between Delpy and Hawke and the amazing dialogue.  It certainly helps that Delpy and Hawke contributed to writing the script and that they made the dialogue sound natural over long takes filmed on location. The movie is technically brilliant since it is essentially set in real time and documents one long conversation.  The ending caught me off guard because I was wondering how they were possibly going to wrap it up with so little time left, but instead ends on a wonderfully ambiguous cliffhanger

Rating: ****

Movie Reviews: Before Sunrise (1995)

Title: Before Sunrise
Release Date: January 27, 1995
Director: Richard Linklater
Production Company: Castle Rock Entertainment

An American tourist, Jesse (Ethan Hawks), and a French Student, Céline (Julie Delpy) meet on a Eurail train.  Feeling a connection, Céline agrees to spend a night wandering around Vienna before Jesse flies home in the morning.  The movie is essentially a series of introspective and philosophical conversations held in front of the beautiful scenery of Vienna.  Hawke’s character is borderline douchebro but shows enough vulnerability to reveal that much of what he’s doing is posturing to hide his sensitive side.  Delpy, apart from her Gallic beauty, shows a lot of complexity and depth of character. There’s a certain artifice to their conversations, but even that feels real as it reflects the way people try to impress someone they’ve just met.  Over time their defences wear down and they find pure Gen X romance while drinking wine under the moon in a Viennese park.  They also make good use of the same iconic ferris wheel featured in The Third Man.  In sum, this movie is a collection of beautiful moments.

Rating: ****


Movie Review: Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)


TitleThor: Love & Thunder
Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director:Taika Waititi
Production Company: Marvel Studios

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak.  Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.

Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher.  When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.

Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor.  It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way.  Together they have some mighty adventures.  The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.

Rating: ***1/2




Movie Review: Swiss Army Man (2016)

Title: Swiss Army Man
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Production Company: Tadmor | Astrakan Films AB | Cold Iron Pictures |
Blackbird Films |  Prettybird

Animated GIF of Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivering the final line of the film Swiss Army Man, "What the fuck?!?"
Mary Elizabeth Winstead saying what we all feel upon watching this film.

Hank Thompson (Paul Dano) is stranded on a desert island and contemplating suicide until he sees a corpse wash up on the shore.  Hank learns that the corpse has “magical powers,” mainly farting, and forms a friendship with him calling him Manny (Daniel Radcliffe).  Manny learns to talk or at least Hank imagines he can. Things get really weird as Hank and Manny travel through the wilderness and Hank tries to teach the ways of humanity to Manny. Of particular significance is Hank working through his regret about not talking to a woman he was attracted to on the bus named Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

The movie is gross and uncomfortable.  But it’s also kind of the point.  Life is gross and uncomfortable and rules of society mean hiding these things about yourself from others.  The movie is kind of a long metaphor about how one has to let down your defenses and show your real self to form connections in relationship with others.

Manny: But maybe everyone’s a little bit ugly. And maybe we’re all just ugly, dying sacks of shit, and maybe all it’ll take is one person to just be okay with that, and then the whole world will be dancing and singing and farting, and everyone will feel a little bit less alone.

Hank: Manny, you have no idea how nice that sounds.

And there are a lot of fart jokes.  The more I think about this movie the more I like it.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Happy Together (1997)

Title: Happy Together
Release Date: 30 May 1997
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Production Company: Jet Tone Production | Block 2 Pictures | Seowoo Film Company | Prénom H Co. Ltd.

Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) are an on-again/off-again couple.  They travel to Argentina where they lose all their money and have to take jobs to earn money to return home.  Their tempestuous relationship further erodes until it falls apart and they both hit rock bottom. I found it unsettling how the film depicts the domestic violence between Lai and Ho, so consider that a content warning if you are similarly sensitive.

As is the style of Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together uses brilliant imagery to depict images and moods rather than plot.  The music in the soundtrack is also expertly matched even when used for ironic effect, like the title song (a cover of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” by Danny Chung appears at the end).  For a movie from the 1990s, it feels very progressive for telling a warts and all story about a same-sex couple.  But for all it’s great artistry and storytelling, I guess I’m the philistine who has to admit I found it a bit slow for my taste.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 
Release Date: July 1, 1953
Director: Howard Hawks
Production Company: 20th Century Fox

I went into Gentlemen Prefer Blondes hesitantly because I feared cringeworthy sexual politics.  On the surface that is true, but this is a more subversive movie than it appears.  At its heart, the movie is about a friendship between two women, Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), and the women are calling the shots.  The men in this movie are almost tangential characters: Gus (Tommy Noonan), the meek heir engaged to Lorelei; Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), the detective hired by Gus’ father to see if Lorelei is up to no good who also becomes a love interest for Dorothy; and Piggy (Charles Coburn), an aged diamond baron who is enchanted by Lorelei.

The basic plot of the movie is that Lorelei is going to Europe to marry Gus, and Dorothy is her chaperone.  Lorelei is drawn to wealthy men, and particularly diamonds, but Dorothy prefers men handsome and strong. They sail on a transatlantic liner along with USA men’s Olympic team and the aforementioned Malone and Piggy.  Hijinks ensue.

I particularly like the movie’s song and dance numbers.  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is the most famous and iconic, but what is up with the women posing as light fixtures?  “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” is extremely funny and somehow combines the female gaze with perhaps the gayest thing ever shown in a Hollywood film up to that point.  But my favorite number is when Russell and Monroe duet in in a Parisian cafe on “When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right.”

Gentlemen may prefer blondes but I think that Russell steals the show with her seemingly effortless and wry performance.  That’s not to knock Monroe, who’s character is written to be dumb, but she undercuts this characterization delightfully with her performance.  There’s a lot about this movie that I’m surprised made it past the production code in 1953.  I mean they probably have plausible deniability that Dorothy and Lorelei don’t actually marry one another at the end of the movie, but it seems perfectly rational to interpret it that way.

Rating: ***1/2