Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004


Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Release Date: March 19, 2004
Director: Michel Gondry
Production Company: Anonymous Content | This is That
Summary/Review:

The premise of this film is made clear in the trailer: After ending their troubled relationship, Clementine (Kate Winslet) uses a service provided by a company called Lacuna to erase all memories she has of her ex-boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey).  When Joel discovers what she’s done, he decides to erase her from his memory as well.  The brilliance of the movie is that knowing this does not spoil the movie, and in fact the opening scenes defy the moviegoer’s expectations.  In fact, the movie plays with chronology to support the central idea of memory being lost. It all works in visually presenting a metaphor of how the mind works while Joel’s experience makes him realize that memories, even the bad ones, are what defines him.

Carrey and Winslet are great in their roles and their performance captures both the little things that are great about a romantic relationship as well as the little irritants that can build up and cause a relationship to fail.  The typically manic Carrey is reserved, even introverted as Joel, but even as the film’s straight man his comic instincts are well served, especially when he has to play his character as a child.

The supporting cast is mainly the crew of Lacuna who turn out to be a messed-up and unprofessional bunch.  Stan Fink (Mark Ruffalo) is the technician assigned to erasing Joel’s memory who uses the time to invite his girlfriend and Lacuna receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst) over for marijuana and sex.  Mary meanwhile has a crush on Lacuna’s director Dr. Howard  Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) who has skeletons in his own closet.  And Patrick (Elijah Wood) is the creepiest of all, using knowledge gained from the procedure to pursue women.

This is an excellent movie and I’m glad I revisited it after many years. Bonus points for having significant scenes set on the frozen Charles River.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Amélie (2001)


Title: Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain
Release Date: 25 April 2001
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Production Company:
Claudie Ossard Productions | UGC | Victoires Productions | Tapioca Films | France 3 Cinéma | MMC Independent | Sofica Sofinergie 5 | Filmstiftung | Canal+ | France 3 Cinéma
Summary/Review:

Life’s funny. To a kid, time always drags. Suddenly you’re fifty. All that’s left of your childhood… fits in a rusty little box

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet specializes in making films set in fantastical worlds.  In Amélie, he makes a fantastic world out of contemporary Paris, a world of wonders created in the mind of its protagonist Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tatou in the role that made her a worldwide superstar).  Amélie is shy young woman who works as a waitress at a cafe and finds pleasure in the simple joys of everyday life. When she finds a box of a child’s treasures hidden in her apartment she surreptitiously returns it to the now middle-aged man who hid it decades before.

Seeing the joy that the box brings to the man, Amélie dedicates herself to anonymously performing acts of kindness for others.  She also begins to pursue a shy young man, Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), whom she observes collecting discarded pictures from photo booths. While Amelie is full of sweetness and charm compared to darkness of Jeunet’s earlier films with Marc Caro, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, some of the things Amélie does would be really creepy in real life.  Nevertheless, Tatou’s performance is brilliant and is one of the best examples of an introvert as protagonist that I’ve ever seen in a film.

In addition to Tatou there are some great performances by an ensemble cast that includes Rufus as Amélie’s father, Serge Merlin as The Glass Man, a wise older neighbor with brittle bone syndrome, and Jeunet film regular Dominique Pinon as a stalker-ish cafe patron who Amélie sets up with the hypochondriac tobacco counter clerk played by Isabelle Nanty.  André Dussollier narrates the film with a documentary-style gravitas that contrasts wonderfully with the magical realism of the movie.  Amélie is only my third favorite Jeunet film after The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, but dang is if it isn’t a fantastic bronze medalist.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Palm Springs (2020)


TitlePalm Springs
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Production Company: Limelight Productions | Lonely Island Classics | Sun Entertainment | FilmNation Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way:  Palm Springs follows the same basic premise of Groundhog Day where someone is living the same day over and over again on a seemingly infinite time loop. There are some key differences. When the film begins, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is already caught in a time loop attending a wedding in which his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is the bridesmaid.  He accidentally pulls a second person into the the loop with him, sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti).  And the movie has more elements of gross-out and sex comedy than Groundhog Day.

It’s an interesting reworking of a formula, and leads to a perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy.  Nyles and Sarah are initially contentious but grow closer after who knows how many thousands of repeats.  It’s a fun lark, but it’s not likely something I’ll return to.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Zookeeper (2011)



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

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.

On the final day of April, I’m playing a reverse April Fools prank on you.  After of watching a month of movies considered among the “best films of all time,” I’m finishing with one that is decidedly not. This is partially because movies with Z titles are hard to come by, and partly for reasons outlined below, but mostly because it’s fun to take a break from “Classic Film” from time to time.

TitleZookeeper
Release Date: July 8, 2011
Director: Frank Coraci
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Broken Road Productions | Hey Eddie | Happy Madison Productions
Summary/Review:

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time because it was filmed at Franklin Park Zoo in Boston which is walking distance from my house.  I used to go the zoo more frequently when my kids were little and I remember when the center of the zoo was taken over by a massive film set.  I wondered why if they were going to film on a massive set, why didn’t they do it in a studio instead. Having watched the film, very little of the real Franklin Park Zoo is seen in this movie so I wonder this even more now. And all the animals are CGI so it’s not like they needed to be in proximity to real animals.

What I didn’t realize is that they needed proximity to Boston. I’d just assumed that the movie would be about a generic zoo, but in the film it is very much the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston.  In fact, they digitally altered the Boston skyline in some shots to make it appear like the zoo is much closer to downtown.  The protagonist lives in a three decker, there’s a bicycling scene on Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the denouement of the movie occurs on the Zakim Bridge.  So “yay Boston!,” I guess.

As for the actual story, Kevin James plays Griffin Keyes, the titular zookeeper (I know nothing about James but reading Letterboxd reviews he seems to be a hated figure).  He suffers continued heartbreak when his girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) rejects his marriage proposal and breaks up with him because she thinks being a zookeeper is a job for losers (which really doesn’t make any sense).  Within in the first ten minutes of the movie it becomes abundantly clear that this is one of those movies where the protagonist will pursue someone who is clearly awful, when his perfect match, zoo veterinarian Kate (Rosario Dawson), is right there. Because Griffin is so hapless, the zoo animals break their code of not talking to humans and offer him advice for wooing Stephanie. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a subplot where Griffin bonds with a depressed gorilla Bernie (Nick Nolte) and they go out partying at TGI Fridays.  Honestly that part could’ve been spun out into an entire movie and it would’ve been much better than what we got. When he’s not doing pratfalls or acting like an alpha male, James actually has some charms, and Dawson who is usually in much better movies brings some “much better movie” magic to her scenes.  Among the celebrities voicing animals are Sylvester Stallone and Cher as lions and Adam Sandler as a crude capuchin monkey. But overall for a comedy the jokes are just not, you know, funny.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: Trouble in Paradise (1932) #AtoZChallenge



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

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.

I couldn’t find a “U” movie to watch from these lists, so I’m going to just review another “T” movie and “U” will have to live with that.

Title: Trouble in Paradise
Release Date: October 21, 1932
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

The film begins with a romantic dinner in Venice between Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins). They gradually learn that they are both posing as aristocracy: he’s a master thief and she’s a pickpocket and a con artist.  They decide to team up and find their next mark in Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), a recent widow who owns a famous perfume company.  Gaston is able to get himself hired as Mariette’s secretary (and get a position for Lily as well) and work his way into her confidence to set up robbing her safe.  There’s one problem though – Gaston and Mariette fall in love.

Thus you have the perfect escapist fare for The Great Depression – the meaningless problems of the rich, a love triangle, and nonstop droll humor.  The three leads are terrific and have a great supporting cast.  I wouldn’t say this movie is laugh out loud funny, but these characters are so smart and effortless in their banter, I can’t help but enjoy it.  I’d never heard of Kay Francis before, but I learned she was the top-paid Hollywood actress of the early 1930s, and I can see why.  You can also tell this is a pre-Code film because they’re never explicitly sexual, they don’t hide its sexiness either.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Le Plaisir (1952)


Title: Le Plaisir
Release Date: 14 February 1952
Director: Max Ophüls
Production Company: Compagnie Commerciale Française Cinématographique (CCFC) | Stera Films
Summary/Review:

Having watched a streak of grim and bleak classic films lately, I looked forward to watching a movie with the title of “Pleasure.”  Unfortunately, I just found it boring.  The film adapts three short stories by Guy de Maupassant that depicts the lives of dandies, prostitutes, and artists in late 1800s France.

  • “Le Masque” is the story of an aging man who tries to recapture his youth by going out to dances wearing a mask that makes him look like a younger man.
  • “Le Maison Tellier” is the story of a madam of a brothel in a village who takes her employees on a journey to her niece’s First Communion, where everyone is impressed by the large group of elegant young women as guests.
  • “Le Modèle” is the story of a painter who falls in love with the life model at his studio.  Their relationship is suitably stormy.

None of these stories seemed all too interesting or had much drama to them.  Sorry, Cahiers du Cinéma, I just have to say that some of your French films don’t do anything for me.

Rating: **

Holiday Movie Marathon: Christmas in Connecticut (1945)


Title: Christmas in Connecticut
Release Date: August 11, 1945
Director: Peter Godfrey
Production Company: Warner Bros.
Summary/Review:

The movie begins with the travails of WWII sailor Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) who survives 18 days in a life raft and a long recovery in the hospital back home. He becomes obsessed with food and particularly the columns of Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a mother who writes about cooking and domestic life from her farm in Connecticut. The earnest publisher of her magazine, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) learns that Jones is a fan of Lane, and comes up with a publicity stunt of having the war hero spend Christmas at her farm.

There’s only one problem: Elizabeth is a single “career gal” who lives in New York City and knows nothing about cooking. Luckily, Elizabeth’s long-time suitor John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is an architect with an actual farmhouse in Connecticut and is willing to pose at Elizabeth’s husband (and ultimately marry her for real). Elizabeth’s friend Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall) is a restaurateur who agrees to come along and do the cooking. All of this takes way to long to set up in the movie (as it takes too much space for me to summarize) but once all the pieces are set in place, the movie really shines.

When Elizabeth and Jefferson finally meet, it’s love at first site. There are a lot of comic hijinks of Elizabeth trying to keep up with the imagined life of her column, especially for Yardley’s benefit. But the movie is also surprisingly progressive as we learn that Jefferson is actually far more domestic than Elizabeth. This is especially true in a scene where he expertly bathes Elizabeth’s borrowed baby when she has no clue. The babies themselves are in fact left in the care of Sloan’s housekeeper by immigrant women working in war factories. The war has turned traditional gender roles upside down and this movie seems to be saying that they don’t need to go back to them. Stanwyck’s performance is particularly brilliant and she delivers lines that clearly indicate that she’s had it with societal expectations even as she’s forced to go along with them. (For more on the subversive elements of this movie see this recent article from the AV Club).

The slow start to this movie could use some judicious editing, and there are some subplots I’ve left out of my summary that aren’t too interesting, but overall, once this movie gets to Connecticut it’s a great rom-com. By the way, despite the movie taking place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it is not a particularly Christmas-y movie. Also, in an odd bit of trivia, this movie was remade in the 1990s as a tv movie directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger! I’m not going to watch that one.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: It Happened One Night (1934)


Title: It Happened One Night
Release Date: February 22, 1934
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

It Happened One Night is Frank Capra’s first big hit as a director and the first movie to sweep the five most prominent Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Actor). It is credit with making interstate bus travel on Greyhound popular while also making undershirts unpopular with men. It’s the template upon which the romantic comedy genre was built. And apparently Clark Gable only appears in this movie because he was being punished by his production company, and nobody involved in making this film had any fun at all (you wouldn’t know from watching this because they’re good actors).

Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is an heiress who is being held captive by her millionaire father Alexander (Walter Connolly) on his yacht after she elopes with a con artist. Ellie jumps ship and boards a bus from Florida to New York, finding herself on her own in the world without her fortune for the first time. She is helped by a fellow traveler, the smart-mouthed Peter Warne (Gable), who is hiding that he is a recently-fired newspaper reporter hoping to regain his job with a story about traveling with the famous heiress.  Traveling by bus, hitchhiking, and eventually stealing a car, the pair fight, escape the law, and naturally fall in love. Despite the title, the movie takes place over several nights and days, allowing their relationship to grow.

Gable and Colbert both play characters who are initially odious but over time reveal their humanity. Colbert is especially good at showing Ellie’s adventurous side as she takes several new experiences in stride. The pair have a great on-screen chemistry especially in a scene where Peter pretends they are a married couple and Ellie jumps in to squabble with him so as to fool the police.  Capra also includes some nice non-plot moments that allow the movie to breathe, such as when passengers on the bus take turns in a sing-a-long (no wonder bus travel looked so attractive!).

Despite what I said in The 39 Steps review, I’ve decided that it wasn’t influenced by It Happened One Night, although both movies feature an autogryo!  It Happened One Night is a worthy classic and still full of laughs 86 years after it was released.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Mystic PiZZa (1988) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time.  I haven’t seen many movies starting with Z much less any that I want to watch again, so instead I’m reviewing a movie with TWO “Zs” in it! This post contains SPOILERS!

TitleMystic Pizza
Release Date: October 21, 1988
Director: Donald Petrie
Production Company: Night Life Inc. | The Samuel Goldwyn Company |
Virgin Vision
Synopsis:

This movie is a coming-of-age, romantic comedy about three young women living in the village of Mystic, Connecticut: the sisters Kat (Annabeth Gish) and Daisy (Julia Roberts) and their friend Jojo (Lili Taylor).  They all work as waitresses at the titular pizza restaurant, and the movie covers the period of a few months where they each have a challenging relationship with a man.

Kat is intelligent and hardworking and planning to start studying astronomy at Yale in the spring semester.  Daisy considers her a goody two shoes. To make more money Kat is hired to work as a babysitter for Tim (William R. Moses), a young father who wants someone to look after his daughter while his wife is in on an extended business trip in England.  Kat and Tim bond intellectually and physically leading to an extramarital affair that ends in heartbreak for Kat.

Daisy feels that her mother looks down on her for not being bright and ambitious like Kat, as well as being judged in general for being promiscuous.  She meets a handsome preppy Charles (Adam Storke) at a bar.  He proves to be less snobbish and more accepting than his friends and family.  But he also has an ongoing quarrel with his father and puts Daisy in an embarrassing situation when he uses her to show up his family’s elitism.

The movie begins with Jojo getting cold feet at her wedding to the fisherman Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio).  She’s torn by her love for Bill and her sense that she’s too young to commit to marriage, children, and the domestic life.  She’s also frustrated that Bill, a devout Catholic, will not have sex before marriage.  Their relationship has its ups and downs before they reconcile and marry for real at the end of the movie.

An ongoing subplot involves the Mystic Pizza restaurant where the owner Leona (Conchata Ferrell) treats Kat, Daisy, and Jojo like her own daughters.  The restaurant is known for its excellent pizza that features Leona’s secret recipe in the sauce. A famous and stodgy tv critic visits the restaurant and although there are several mishaps serving him, when his review is televised he declares the pizza to be “superb” leading to an uptick in business.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

First and foremost, this movie is set in Connecticut, which when you’re a kid growing up in Connecticut on a steady diet of movies set in California and New York, is a big f’in deal!  Mystic is home to two of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium, so every Connecticut schoolchild went to at least one of those places on a field trip. I also visited several times with my family.  People from the 47 states with more territory than Connecticut will laugh, but as a kid, the journey from our home in the western end of the state to Mystic felt soooooooooooooooo long.

Anyhow, I watched this with my family on cable or VHS sometime in the year or so after it was released.  I remember enjoying the movie greatly and forming a deep celebrity crush on Annabeth Gish even though all the other boys went for Julia Roberts.  In the 1990s, on a visit to Mystic, I dined at the original Mystic Pizza restaurant.  The pizza is – in fact – really good.

What Did I Remember?:

I specifically remember Julia Roberts dumping fish into the preppy’s sports car and Lili Taylor yelling at her boyfriend from the drawbridge.  Otherwise, I just remembered general impressions and plot details.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot a lot.  Like I didn’t remember that the movie begins and ends with weddings.  I didn’t even remember that Kat and Daisy are sisters.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie does a great job on focusing on relationships – not just man-woman relationships, but also among family and friends.  It also captures the class dynamic in Connecticut of working class, Catholic enclaves (Portuguese-Americans in the movie, but Italian-American where I grew up) competing with the wealthier elites. The men in this movie are all horrible in their own way, but also have good qualities, so it is believable that 2 of the 3 relationships are reconciled by the film’s end.

The movie also has some great set pieces, like when Jojo, Daisy, and Kat steal Bill’s truck and sing along with Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (another great scene I was surprised I forgot about). The acting is really good in the movie and a lot of the cast went on to stardom.  Roberts, of course, became one of the biggest Hollywood leading ladies within a few years of this movie.  Meanwhile, Taylor became the indie movie queen in the 1990s. Gish’s career isn’t as illustrious but she did star in The X-Files for a few seasons. Even Matt Damon makes his film debut as Charles’ younger brother.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Younger viewers may laugh at the 80s hairstyles and fashions, but they still look pretty good to me.

Is It a Classic?:

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say yes.  It holds a special place in my heart at least.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Apartment (1960)


Title: The Apartment
Release Date: June 30, 1960
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: The Mirisch Company
Summary/Review:

C. C. “Bud” Baxter is an insurance clerk in a giant New York City corporation whose Upper West side apartment has become a trysting place for senior executives and their extramarital partners.  Unable to return home, Bud stays late at work and wonders the street at night in hopes that he’ll gain favor and a promotion.

At last he’s called to the office of personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, seeming even slimier than the murderer he played in Double Indemnity), and given a promotion and a private office. The catch is that Sheldrake wants in on using the apartment for his own affair.  Despite having a reputation as a Lothario with his neighbors, Bud doesn’t have a dating life of his own, but does have a crush on the elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  In a sad twist, Bud learns that Fran is Sheldrake’s mistress.

There’s a shocking incident about halfway through this film that makes it darker than the pure comedy it appears to be.  But it ends up being a transformative event for the lead characters. This movie must’ve been risque in 1960 since Bud’s neighbors all but say “the nonstop fucking in your apartment is too loud!” Today, the movie is shocking in the casual sexism on display as women employees of the company are treated as targets for sexual conquest by the male executives.

Of course, Bud is presented as the “good guy” in contrast to the sleezeball executives.  Nevertheless, he helps prop up the system by covering for their infidelities and even Sheldrake’s lies to Fran.  Thus the conclusion of this movie is terrific when Bud finally chooses to be a mensch. And the final scene – “Shut up and deal!” – is perfect.

Rating: ****