Movie Review: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)


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

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

Movie Review: Time After Time (1979)


Title: Time After Time
Release Date: September 28, 1979
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Production Company: Orion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Time After Time is one of those movies I always liked as a child when it was frequently shown on tv. I was wondering how well it would hold up and I’m pleasantly surprised that it does.  The movie tells the story of 19th century author and futurist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) inventing an actual time machine.  When showing off the machine to a party of fellow intellectuals, it is revealed that one of his guests is actually Jack the Ripper (David Warner).

The Ripper steals the time machine, and Wells follows him into the future arriving in San Francisco in 1970.  To Wells’ horror, the future is not the utopia he dreamed of but a place where the scale of violence is such that Jack claims he’s an “amateur.” While attempting to track down Jack the Ripper and prevent more murders, Wells forms a romantic relationship with bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen).

The movie does a really great job of blending together several genres – time travel science fiction, fish-out-of-water comedy, romance, and crime thriller.  Like a lot of time travel stories there are plot elements that don’t hold up to much scrutiny, but can be easily hand-waved away. This movie also has a great font of quirky trivia associated with it, such as:

  • Director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer also wrote the script for another movie where time travelers arrive in present-day San Francisco, have a lot of fish-out-of-water comic experiences, and one of the time travelers forms a romantic relationship with a contemporary woman who ends up joining the time traveler.  That movie, of course, is Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • Mary Steenburgen appeared in yet another movie where she falls in love with a time traveler and leaves to go with him, Back to the Future III.
  • Speaking about the Back to the Future franchise, the date on which Marty arrives in the past is November 5, which is that same date that H.G. Wells arrives in San Francisco.
  • Finally, Cyndi Lauper saw the title of this film in TV Guide and used it to write one of her classic ballads.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest


Author: Katherine V. Forrest
Title: Curious Wine
Narrator: Jane Merrow
Publication Info:  Allure Audio (2009) [originally published in 1983]
Summary/Review:

Someday I need to start keeping track of where I find out about the books I put on my reading list, because this is definitely not the typical book for me to read.  Which is a good thing, so thank you random person who recommended it to me.

Curious Wine is the story of a women’s retreat at a cabin at a Lake Tahoe ski resort, and through encounter games and various intimate conversations share a lot about themselves.  Two of the women, Diane and Lane, form a bond that leads to a sexual relationship.  The problem is that up to that point they had considered themselves straight and have a lot of things to navigate in order to continue the relationship.

This was one of the first mainstream romance novels about a lesbian relationship by a lesbian author.  The novel goes to great lengths to add “respectability” to the relationship by having two white, professional women who’ve previously had relationships with men as the protagonists who then put a lot of effort into making sure no one can consider their love “just a phase.”  This was certainly necessary in the early 1980s but feels awkward now.  Nevertheless it is a sweet and honest story with well-developed characters.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Gilda (1946)


Title: Gilda
Release Date: March 14, 1946
Director: Charles Vidor
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

An itinerant gambler from America, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), arrives in Argentina where he meets the proprietor of an illegal casino, Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Farrell gains Mundson’s trust and gets hired as a casino manager. A while later, Mundson returns from his travels with a newlywed wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a woman from Farrell’s past.  Farrell finds himself in the position of having to watch over Gilda’s scandalous behaviors, and the love/hate feelings between Gilda and himself.  Meanwhile, German mobsters are on Mundson’s tail in regards to a tungsten cartel.

Like a lot of film noir, Gilda doesn’t make a lot of sense plotwise, and it’s particularly hard to figure out the characters’ motivations.  But this is a movie that’s all about the vibes.  And the vibiest of all is the electric performance by Hayworth at Gilda.  She even does a couple of hot musical numbers although Anita Ellis dubs her singing voice.

I’m sure that people could write an entire book of essays about questions raised by this film (Does Farrell have a same sex attraction for Mundson?  What exactly was the nature of Farrell and Gilda’s past?) Mostly I just enjoyed chilling in the balcony of the Brattle Theater while soaking up the excess of Classic Hollywood.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: The Private Life of a Cat (1947) #atozchallenge


Welcome to Panorama of the Mountains! My name is Liam and I enjoy watching documentary movies.  This month I will be reviewing 26 documentaries from A-to-Z!

Documentaries starting with the letter Documentaries starting with the letter P that I have previously reviewed include: 

Title:  The Private Life of a Cat
Release Date: 1946 or 1947?
Director: Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren
Production Company: A Film Publishers Release
Summary/Review: This short documentary details a few weeks in the life of a pair of house cats and their newborn kittens in a Greenwich Village apartment.  The birth of the five kittens is a major portion of the film, and then we see them cared for by mama cat and learning to walk and play.  I watched a silent version of this film (apparently there is one with narration that I could not find) and it felt like watching old home movies.  Except Hammid and Deren have some filmic touches such as filming from a low angle as if to provide a cats eye view.

Rating: ***1/2

Note: I usually embed a trailer, but in this case the entire 22-minute film can be found below.  It’s nice to see that The Private Life of a Cat is on YouTube along with all the other many modern cat videos.

Movie Review: Your Name. (2016)


Title: Your Name.
Release Date: July 3, 2016
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Production Company: Toho | CoMix Wave Films
Summary/Review:

Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) is a teenage girl living in a rural Japanese village.  Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a teenage boy living in the heart of Tokyo.  They have nothing in common, and don’t even know one another.  But one day they mysteriously begin swapping bodies, something that continues periodically over time.  They begin to learn more about one another by recording diary entries into one another’s phones. Ultimately they begin to realize that their fate is tied in with a comet that broke-up over Japan three years earlier.

This movie has some commonalities with other in the body swap genre, such as a running gag of Taki fondling “his” breasts every time he wakes up in Mitsuha’s body.  But it goes way beyond those surface similarities and works really well as romantic fantasy that draws on Japanese culture and collective trauma.  I felt at times that the musical score was inappropriate to the mood of the movie, and that the epilogue of the movie runs on a bit too long.  But other than that it is a brilliant and imaginative story with a great visual delight.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Two for the Road (1967)


Title: Two for the Road
Release Date: 20 September 1967
Director: Stanley Donen
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Summary/Review:

I learned about this movie in an odd way, through the vintage cars parked outside of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort.  One of the cars is a 1957 Ford Country Squire station wagon that is used in Two For the Road.  In fact, various vehicles are key to the story of this film which depicts the crumbling marriage of Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) and Mark (Albert Finney) over several road trips through southern France.  Different trips at different times in their 12 year relationship are expertly intercut with the different cars offering a clue as to what year they are in.  We also get to see a great variety of fantastic fashions and hairstyles for Hepburn.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and the experimental style in which its edited is really effective.  Hepburn is excellent and offers a more mature performance than her earlier films.  Finney is also good, although I found Mark to be such a jerk that I really wasn’t rooting for him and Joanna to save their marriage.  There are some odd tonal shifts in the movie that sometimes work as the movie shifts between drama, romance, and comedy.  But then there are also some “funny car” gags that fall flat and travel problem jokes that would not be out of place in an inferior movie like The Out-of-Towners.  So it’s a mixed bag, but definitely a movie that felt unique and worth watching once.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald


Author: Lisa Grunwald 
Title: Time After Time
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This charming historical romance takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.  The adventurous 23-year-old flapper girl Nora and a hardworking railroad employee, Joe, who is a decade her senior, meet at Grand Central in 1937 and fall in love.  The only problem is that Nora is dead.  Killed in a subway crash in 1925, Nora returns every year on the anniversary of her death to Grand Central.  With Joe’s help, Nora learns that she can maintain her bodily form only if she stays within 900 feet of the terminal.

Thus begins a strange romance, where the couple try to make a normal life, taking advantage all of the things a mid-century railroad terminal provides.  This includes the Biltmore Hotel, where the couple lives in hotel rooms, work for Nora, and even an education for Nora at the Grand Central Academy of Art!  There are problems, of courses, mainly that Joe can never bring Nora to Queens to visit his family and that Nora remains forever young while Joe continues to age.  It’s a clever and sweet narrative and it has a twist ending that I enjoyed.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Free Guy (2021)


Title: Free Guy
Release Date: August 13, 2021
Director: Shawn Levy
Production Company: Berlanti Productions | 21 Laps Entertainment | Maximum Effort | Lit Entertainment Group | TSG Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) doesn’t know that he lives in a video game as a non-playing character (NPC), and seems content with living in a city where violent crime is routine.  The game, Free City, is a product from the company of melomaniac Antwan (Taika Waititi).  Game developer Millie (Jodie Comer) enters the game to seek out her source code that she believes Antwan stole from her, sometimes with the help of her former partner Keys (Joe Keery of Stranger Things fame). Meeting Millie prompts Guy to become more self-aware and evolve as an artificial life form, prompting a revolution among the NPCs.

I won’t go too much more into the plot as it’s one of those plots that gets too convoluted and doesn’t make much sense if you think of it too much.  The premise of this movie reminds me of The LEGO Movie and The Truman Show, but not so much that it doesn’t stand on its own. The real point of this movie is to see the charming Ryan Reynolds do action, comedy, and romance which he does well, and it features enough fun gags to make it worth the watch.   I was also interested in seeing Free Guy because I remember when it was being filmed in Boston.  Boston looks good as a video game setting and it was especially unnerving to see familiar Boston landscapes disintegrating in one scene.

Rating:***

Movie Review: She’s Gotta Have It (1986)


Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Release Date: August 8, 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Production Company: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Summary/Review:

I watched She’s Gotta Have It way back in the 1980s and remember liking it, except for THAT SCENE (but we’ll get to that latter).  This was Spike Lee’s first feature film as director, shot in black & white (except for one brilliant burst of color mid-movie), and has more of an arthouse vibe to it than any of Lee’s later work.

The movie focuses on Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), an artist in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, and her romantic sexual relationships with three different men.  Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks) is presented as the “good guy” and I think the narrative wants the audience to believe that until the rug is pulled out from us later on.  Greer (John Canada Terrell) is a vain model.  Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) is a goofy sneakerhead and basically a Brooklyn hipster before his time.  Lee has also portrayed Mars in commercials and his own identity and the character’s are sometimes intermingled.

The movie basically does a good job of deconstructing the double standards of a woman who wants to be sexually active with more than one man.  In the documentary-style interviews with the men, they basically “self-own” themselves with their hypocritical views.  This movie is also sex positive in the way that it depicts how Nola is sexually fulfilled in different ways by each of the men.  Still though, this movie fumbles at times where it clearly feels it was written by a straight man. One of the worst is examples is a lesbian character portrayed by Raye Dowell acts like a male fantasy of a lesbian woman.

And now we come to the end of the movie for which I will have to discuss SPOILERS. Angry that Nola won’t choose to be only with him, Jamie brutally rapes her. Later Nola calls it a “near rape” which is an understatement at best. She decides to break it off with Mars and Greer and be exclusive with Jamie but also to be celibate for a time.  Now, it is not unrealistic for a seemingly “good guy” in a patriarchal society to become a rapist, nor is it unrealistic for a woman to internalize abuse and feel that she has to be the one to change her behavior but it does seem to send the wrong message that undercuts everything that came before.  In the final shot, Nola abruptly admits that her period of celibacy was short and she eventually broke it off with Jamie, which, good for her, but it also feels like this movie is trying to have it both ways.

Despite its flaws, She’s Gotta Have It, was a groundbreaking film.  It kicked off Spike Lee’s career, and was in the vanguard of movies by Black filmmakers that shook off the Hollywood stereotypes of Black stories in film.  The movie depicts Brooklyn as home to successful Black people pursuing their interests in careers and personal lives in a way that sadly hadn’t been seen in movies before.  It was also a big boost to independent movies at a time of major studio dominance, and the indies still flourish today because of it.

Rating: ***1/2