Friday, May 13, 2016

Catch-22 (1970)

Captain Yossarian (Alan Arkin) wants to be grounded so he tells the doctor that he is crazy. But by asking to be grounded he is proving that he is sane, as only a crazy person would want to continue flying dangerous missions. The other pilots are crazy because they want to fly, but they can't be grounded because they won't ask. But if they do, Catch-22.

Based on the Joseph Heller novel and as I understand, a fairly faithful rendition. I took my son's word. Reading books is hard. That's why I watch. The story is non-linear and must be watched to the end for it to make any sense. the screenplay was written by Buck Henry, who also wrote Mike Nichols' The Graduate. Again, I'll say it. So THAT'S why SNL kept having him appear.

Catch-22 is chuck full of familiar character actors. Bob Newhart, Jack Gilford, Norman Fell, Richard Benjamin, and even Art Garfunkel. Future heavies Martin Sheen and Jon Voight, plus heavy has-been Orson Welles. The first cinematic display of someone on a toilet included Martin Balsam (12 angry men, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and this episode of The Twilight Zone I just saw) and Anthony Perkins. The first time a toilet was shown was in Psycho, which also featured both men.

Because of it's very nature, the story cannot be described. There is an absurd, dreamlike quality, and the audience is forced to pay close attention to make sense of it all. Frequently background noise drowns out the dialog, but that's purely intentional. This is not a movie for everybody, but it was definitely a movie for me. AMRU 4. Arkin may be this country's greatest character actor.
"Whoo... That's some catch, that Catch-22.
It's the best there is."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Safety Last! (1923)

A young man (Harold Lloyd) goes to the big city to become successful enough to marry his sweetheart. Things don't go as planned, but he tries to keep up appearances. Then become complicated when sweetheart travels to the city to visits him at work. So, he climbs the building to make some extra cash. You know the scene where he hangs from a clock face. It's real famous.

As a kid I was told Lloyd actually performed these stunts on the building, with eight fingers (two were blown off a few years earlier), without a stuntman. Well, turns out, not so much. A stunt man was used, and Lloyd wasn't nearly as far off the ground as it seemed. The bricks were modified to give him a solid grip. The stunt man didn't spill the beans until Lloyd died. Also, he didn't want to diminish the real danger of the stunts.

Lloyd would marry his almost 22 year old co-star two months before the film's April fools day release. He discouraged her from continuing her career shortly thereafter.

Safety Last! has some fairly clever visual gags and the wall climbing in the third act holds your interest, however the film is sometimes tedious despite the 70 minute run time. This is one of about a billion silent comedies Hal Roach has his name on. He is credited as "Presenter" and writer, and uncredited as producer.

Paper-thin story, tired comedy mixed in with some better bits, capped off by cool stunts in the third act, and you have a very watchable film. AMRU 3.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wait Until Dark (1967)

A woman, trafficking drugs inside a child's doll, gives it to an unsuspecting man to hold at the airport. When she later asks for the doll back, he can't find it. While the man is out, three criminals try to shake down his blind wife (Audrey Hepburn) for the doll.

Audrey Hepburn plays the Audrey Hepburn character, only pushing 40 this time. Efrem Zimbalist Jr played her husband. Folks might remember him from The FBI (in color!) Or as Stephanie Zimbalist's father. Or maybe not at all. Zimbalist sounds like the guy who plays the zimbals. Hate that guy.

Hepburn got the Oscar nomination, but the real story is American hero Alan Arkin as Evil Ringo. He is truly diabolical as he coerces the other two criminals to assist recovering the doll. Arkin, then a two-time Oscar nominee, was asked if he felt overlooked for this part. He replied "You don't get nominated for being mean to Audrey Hepburn!" It'll be almost forty years before he wins. We will be seeing him again soon.

The movie was produced by Hepburn's then husband, who then divorced her. I don't think there was a connection. Richard Crenna (you know, from the earlier Rambo movies) was interesting in an early role. He was older than I thought he was, pushing 60 come Rambo. Here is before he started wearing the porn stache.

Wait Until Dark isn't without its flaws. All problems could have been avoided if they'd just lock their damn door. And what apartment doesn't have a back exit? That can't be to code. Also, the criminals plot was overly elaborate. They put on disguises for a blind lady, then they use their real names. And there are more, but what's the point.

Despite its flaws, Wait Until Dark is an excellent thriller. There are some real thrilling moments and your attention is never released. AMRU 3.5.
"I cannot negotiate in an atmosphere of mistrust."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Breathless (1960)

Michel is a two bit criminal obsessed with American culture and an American woman. He commits rash crimes while trying to convince Patricia to run off with him to Rome.

This was Jean-Luc Godard's first feature length film and my first foray into the French New Wave, whatever that is. The story was written by Francois Truffaut, the other FNW giant. I understand they didn't get along.

Godard needed to shorten the film but didn't want to remove any scenes. So, he just chopped up the slower parts, giving a strange, disconnected feeling of reality to the story, lending itself to the revolution in movie making during this time.

Pretty Jean Seberg played Joan of Arc as a teen, appeared in The Mouse that Roared, and seemed to be a rising star. She apparently suffered from depression before taking kill-me pills at the age of 40.

I found Breathless likable and in many aspects interesting, but I fall short of love. Stylish, but there wasn't much story to latch onto. Clever editing will take you only so far. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

You see, there are these Jews in Russia. You know, before the revolution. And sometimes they fiddle on rooftops. And other stuff happens too.

In reality, Fiddler on the Roof is about tradition in the face of changing times. Changing social customs, changing political climate, and even a coming revolution. Through it all, through each crisis, the people make choices and move on.

Fiddler is another film I knew, but did not know. I knew or knew of the songs, was familiar with the setting, but didn't know anything about the story. Tevye is "blessed" with five daughters and a hard life. The older daughters are reaching marrying age and he finds they are making nontraditional choices starting with rejecting the matchmaker's selection. The movie does not follow the standard Hollywood story arc. Life goes on. No great resolution.

Norman Jewison was hired to direct because the studio thought he was Jewish (he's not). Things worked out pretty well. Jewison chose Topol from the London production over the more flamboyant Zero Mostel from Broadway. Zero held a grudge. Norma Crane was diagnosed with breast cancer before production, and told no one except Jewison and Topol. She would die in two years. Rosalind Harris, playing daughter Tzeitel, would eventually take over Crane's role on stage as Tevye/Topol's wife. That's not creepy at all.

A good indicator of a movie's impact is how long it sticks with me. At the time of this writing it has been a few weeks since I watched it, and I find my thoughts return to it. Little bits of dialog, the songs, and, oh my god, the dream sequence, stay on my mind. This is masterful storytelling, wonderful acting, and and an all-around treat. AMRU 4.5.
Perchik: Money is the world's curse.
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sabrina (1954)

Young Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is the daughter of the Chauffeur. She has a life long crush on the playboy son of her father's employer (William Holden), but he hardly notices her. She is sent off to Paris to learn to cook and returns with a new outlook, and the attention of the Larrabee boys.

Responsible older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) arranges for brother David to marry the daughter of a sugar plantation owner as part of a larger plastics deal, when David finally notices Sabrina. Linus' solution is to get David out of the way, make her fall in love with him, then ship her off to Paris again with a half-hearted apology. Nice guy this Linus.

For most of this film I was loving it. Hepburn was absolutely charming and the dialog was great. But I really struggled with Bogart as the rich, responsible, leading man-type. Also, in his mid fifties, he was creepy grandpa next to Hepburn's porcelain skin. Cary Grant was originally cast, but he turned it down. Grant was only a couple years younger than Bogart, but looked much younger and was way more appropriate for the role.

Early critics said Holden should have played the older brother and someone younger play David, and I agree. He seemed old as playboy David, and Bogart was older than the man playing Sabrina's father!

Bogart also didn't think much of Hepburn or Holden, or even Billy Wilder. He wanted wife Lauren Bacall for the lead, but I can't imagine anyone matching Hepburn's charm. In three years he would be gone.

Sabrina is rather charming and well written, but what started well ended up being a fairly generic rom-com by the third act. Maybe I'm holding the fast start or questionable casting choices against it, but there's no helping that. At worst, it's still a fine film. AMRU 3.5.
"A woman happily in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappily in love, she forgets to turn on the oven."

Saturday, April 2, 2016

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a child star who's career faltered as she entered adulthood. Overlooked sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) became the toast of Hollywood. At the height of her career Blanche is paralyzed in an accident and both sisters fade from memory. Old and forgotten, the two sisters live together. Blanche in a wheel chair, and Jane bitter and drunk.

How these two huge stars from the 30's and 40's, who hated each other in real life, were convinced to appear together in this unconventional horror/thriller is a mystery. And that it worked so well is downright amazing. Davis as Jane, looking ten years older than her 54ish years of age, is totally unhinged. You do not doubt for one moment the pent up hatred she feels, and the depravity she reached. As events unfold we learn more of their complicated relationship.

How well did they get along? Davis had a Coke machine put on the set because Crawford was married to the chairman of Pepsi. When Davis was nominated for an Oscar, Crawford campaigned against her. When Anne Bancroft won, Joan accepted it on her behalf. This natural animosity had to help with their onscreen chemistry.

I've been mostly underwhelmed by the performances I've seen from both women (excepting All About Eve), but they were terrific. The whole movie, front to back, is terrific. What I gave you above is just the setup to where the story begins. I don't dare spoil the story that unfolds. It's taught, thrilling, and amazing. Look for an appearance by King Tut. AMRU 4.5.
"Oh, Blanche? You know we've got rats in the cellar?"