Sunday, February 15, 2015

Our Hospitality (1923)

The Hatfield's and McCoy's are at it again in the Ozarks. Did I say Hatfield's and McCoy's? I meant the Canfield and McKay's, somewhere in Appalachia. After the feud heats up again, the Canfields vow to wipe the McKay's off the map. Maw McKay sends her young son to New York so he never has to learn of this feud. Twenty years later he returns to claim the family homestead. Things heat up when the Canfields discover a new McKay in town.

One year old Buster Keaton Jr played Keaton's character at one year old. His love interest was his then wife Natalie Talmadge. Theirs was a stormy marriage, if memory serves. They divorced about the same time as his career went south. His hard luck father also had a bit part. There is one amusing joke where they depict 1830's New York as no more urban than the Appalachia. That one took a second to sink in.

Amusing, watchable, short, Our Hospitality is a pleasant diversion. Not a masterpiece, but well worth watching. AMRU 3.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Suspicion (1941)

Lina (Joan Fontaine) is a pretty bookworm. A spinster in training, really. When she crosses paths with the fast talking charmer Johnnie (Cary Grant), she isn't sure what to make of him. After she discovers her parents have given up on her ever catching a man, she decides to return Johnnie's advances. They elope.

Soon Lina realizes that Johnnie is broke. Instead of working he is at the races. She catches him in lie after lie. She first suspects he married her for her money (not as grand as once thought), then to kill her for the insurance.

Suspicion plays heavy on the melodrama, and if the storyline doesn't lend on, just listen to the overbearing soundtrack. Like many Hitchcock films, the focus is square on the pretty young woman. Nothing happens without her on screen. Grant is playing mostly against type here, much to the dismay of RKO who wanted all scenes where he appeared menacing cut. This wasn't going to work.

This is really a story about two people, but the supporting cast is excellent. Dame May Whitty, whom old friends may remember her in The Lady Vanishes and the Hollywood version of Gaslight, plays Lina's mom. Longtime Dr. Watson Nigel Bruce plays Johnnie's friend Beaky. He was in She that should have been filmed in color. Both he and she were in a lot of movies I should have seen by now were I not overly focused on genre films. Leo G. Carroll had a small role. He has been in quite a few Hitchcock films. He was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills, but that's another story.

Before I am finished with this blog, I will have seen all of Hitch's available films. My appreciation grows with each one I watch. Suspicion is by no means a masterpiece, but it's a satisfying mystery and well crafted film. Even if the ending is somewhat lacking. AMRU 3.5.
"Well, well. You're the first woman I've ever met who said yes when she meant yes."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Horse Feathers (1932)

New college president Wagstaff (Groucho) is convinced by his undergrad son Frank (dull brother Zeppo) that what the school needs is a winning football team, and he sends him to a local speakeasy where a few top players hang out. Instead of recruiting ringers, he signs up the speakeasy thug and the dog catcher (Chico and Harpo). Marx style antics ensue.

Story really doesn't matter in a Marx Brothers movie. It's just a framework for them to perform their vaudeville. If you take anything here seriously, then you are missing the point.

Comedy footnote Thelma Todd plays the sizable role. Her career was cut shot because someone murdered her. Interesting to note that TCM presenter Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that his grandfather said he'd rather have their teeth drilled out before working with the brothers again. The Buster Keaton documentary I mentioned before had unkind words about their professionalism as well.

All Marx Brother films are alike, as far as I can tell. They don't fail to entertain, however. Would be nice if the musical numbers were shorter. AMRU 3.5.
"Are you suggesting that I, the president of Huxley College, go into a speakeasy without even giving me the address?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pumping Iron (1977)

This documentary takes an insider's look at the sport of bodybuilding, specifically at Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt at a sixth Mr. Olympia title in 1975. We also see the Mr. Universe championship.

I had a similar experience watching this as when watching Project Runway with my wife. The behind the scenes look shows less the final product, but the process and motivation of the participants. This can be enlightening. While I have been known to lift a weight and to even wear clothes, both worlds were a mystery, and somewhat foolish looking to me. Pumping Iron was an eye opener.

Here's what I found interesting: Arnold Schwarzenegger was already famous at the time of this documentary. Not Conan/Terminator/Kindergarten Cop famous, but he was renowned in the bodybuilding world and even did a fair amount of Hollywood (Streets of San Francisco, people!) I thought he was an unknown. Also highlighted was TV's Lou Ferrigno. For reasons I can't explain, I thought Lou was a short man made to look large by careful camera angles. Nope. The dude was in the 6'4" range, towering over Arnold.

Through the competition, Schwarzenegger is supremely confident, having won the previous five competitions, and was thought unstoppable. Lots of bravado abounds amongst the competitors, but Ferrigno comes off as humble, focused, and family oriented. His father is his coach. Arnold speaks of missing his father's funeral because he didn't want to interrupt his training. He later admitted this was a lie.

Spoiler alert: Arnold did win his sixth title before retiring. He came out of retirement in 1980 to win again, just to prove he could. His seven titles is no longer a record. Two people have eight each.

Pumping Iron is fascinating and very well done. This documentary is required viewing for weightlifters and bodybuilders, but might be more useful to the rest of us. AMRU 3.5.
"It's as satisfying to me as, uh, coming is, you know? As, ah, having sex with a woman and coming. And so can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like, uh, getting the feeling of coming in a gym, I'm getting the feeling of coming at home, I'm getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose in front of 5,000 people, I get the same feeling, so I am coming day and night. I mean, it's terrific. Right? So you know, I am in heaven."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mad Max (1979)

Hot rod cops do battle with a renegade gang. Wow, am I surprised how bad this movie is.

Back in the day I knew people who were obsessed with Mad Max. I was the lame outsider because I never saw it. Thirty years later I still had not seen it. So, in an attempt to acquaint my sons with the movies of my youth (Die Hard, RoboCop, Total Recall ...) I had them watch Mad Max. We were all in agreement. Dull city.

I like low budget films, and am willing to forgive the grindhouse/exploitation genre for what it is, but there is a large stretch in the middle that could be removed without harming the story, such as it is. Cool explosions at the beginning, better than fair climax, and about a half hour of almost nothing in between. Had they clipped the 90ish minutes down to around 60 this would have been a lot more watchable. Had they the budget to do explosion scenes they planned, all the better.

So, I guess I'm glad I saw it because it's kinda an essential in some circles. This is the movie that made Mel Gibson a star (and back in the day, youngsters, he was a big star). I cannot, however, give it a passing grade with a clear conscience. And I do know that it's the sequel that was great. But the 1979 effort: AMRU 2.5.

RIP Anita Ekberg. I once started watching La Dolce Vita on a work night and had to stop for sleep. The next morning, Netflix removed it from streaming. I always wanted to see it through. Boccaccio '70 is available, and I guess I will settle for that.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014: My Film Blog Year in Review

It's hard not to notice that my movie count was way off this year. I won't go into detail, but in February that my mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Weeks later my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. As my father's days were coming to an end my mother was hospitalized and looked as if she would beat him into the grave. My father passed in late August surrounded by family. My mother, surprisingly, recovered. It has been a transformative experience for me and it's no guess why my time and concern was directed elsewhere.

I expect my 2015 numbers to look more like 2013, but you never know what life will throw at you. But let me start with examining how well I did on my preset goals. Apart from the movie count I mentioned lightening up on the Sci Fi and Horror. Of the 28 films, eleven were tagged as either Horror or Sci Fi, so I guess that was an improvement. I did do well on the "classics", even hitting two best pictures. One surprise is hitting six silent movies, liking most of them. Maybe I've finally figured them out. Zero musicals. I'm good with that.

Unwritten, I had intended on progressing on the James Bond films, hitting another William Castle or Marx Brothers film, and maybe even a Russ Meyer. Struck out there. But I did finish off the Val Lewton horror collection and introduce myself to new directors to follow. Overall, few of 2014's movies were garbage and many were quite good.

Only one film, Batman (1966) was a resounding failure. I expected it to be bad, but it surpassed expectations. Twelve I rated 4 or better. Compare that to seven for 2013 when I watched sixteen more films. So, I guess I liked what I selected. I hope to continue that trend. I rated The Graduate the highest, but I think the real winner was Keaton's The General. It's probably the one I'm most likely to watch again anytime soon.

Now, for the complete list of movies I saw in theaters: Hunger Games MJ1. Yea, that's it, and it was on my wife's insistence. She made we watch the first two films streaming in the week before we went. Not a bad series (3.5 range, I would guess), but someday I'd like to go to the movies to see a movie *I* chose. Someday that may happen.

For 2015 I will throw in the following goals: Bond, Castle, Marx Bros., more Best Pictures. Also Hitchcock, Bergman, and Kubrick. One last item: I will formally expand into the 1970's. I have no where near saturated the older territory, it's just that there are a lot of excellent films that I have neglected in my life. I'll resist the urge to rewatch movies I know I love (sorry, Star Wars).

Thanks for following.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Gunfighter (1950)

Tired gunfighter (Gregory Peck) just wants to retire but every young upstart looking to make a name for himself won't leave him alone.

After taking out yet another kid, he heads out of town with the kid's brothers on his tail. Now in Cayenne, he meets up with his old buddy, now Marshal, and tries to look up his old flame who isn't too keen for the gunfighter lifestyle. While in town his celebrity status becomes the event of the day.

300+ movies and Gregory Peck #1. How did that happen? There are other Hollywood legends not yet covered, but this one is surprising. I have a list of names to cross off and hope to chop it down to size in the coming year.

Ok, back to the story. Sound familiar? Yea, it pops up now and again. Blazing Saddles, a Twilight Zone episode (I'm certain, but can't find it). It's something of a western stereotype, but this, I believe, is it's first incarnation.

More psychological in nature, it's a new direction for Westerns. Not really a romance nor action/adventure, although those elements are not absent, The Gunfighter is a pleasant, well made, somewhat predictable diversion. I recorded it on a complete lark off of TCM. It wasn't a box office success. Filmmakers, jokingly, blamed Peck's historically accurate but silly looking mustache. I thought it looked fine. AMRU 3.5.
"He don't look so tough to me.
Yeah, yeah. That's the way it always starts. He don't look so tough to somebody."