Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

Director (Joel McCrea) of lighthearted comedies wants to make serious films about the downtrodden. When it's pointed out that he knows nothing of trouble, he has wardrobe bring up a bum costume, puts a dime in his pocket, and tries to live among the poor. Along the way he meets up with a struggling starlet (struggling starlet Veronica Lake) and proceeds to find all the trouble he was looking for.

I suppose this is a romantic comedy, but Sullivan's quest to learn about the disenfranchised takes top priority. This movie appears to explore liberal guilt. Rich white man taking up the cause of the poor without having any clue what it means to be poor. Boy howdy, does he find out.

Nineteen year old Lake was seven or eight months pregnant while filming, and you'd never know it. She's jumping on trains and falling into water just as the doctor ordered. There's a scene in a black church that was rather interesting. It depicts the poor black people as, well, people. This was 1941, remember. Being a frightened or bumbling servant was the BEST they normally could hope for. Director Preston Sturges received a letter from Walter White (not THAT Walter White!) from the NAACP in appreciation. I guess the scene with the bumbling chef was easily ignored.

So wonderfully written, Sullivan's Travels is delightful. His dialog had just enough edge to make production code Hollywood interesting. Definitely a see-again. AMRU 4.
"Just an extra girl having breakfast with a director. Only I didn't used to have breakfast with them. Maybe that was my trouble.
Did they ever ask you to?
Then don't pat yourself on the back."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

12 Angry Men (1957)

A young kid with a court appointed attorney is tried for the murder of his father. When the jury retires, the jurors are certain of his guilt. Well, eleven of twelve are certain.

Shot almost entirely in one room, this is a character study of perspective, personality, and circumstance. Each of the unnamed jurors bring their own prejudices and they are revealed as Juror 8 forces them to examine the evidence piece by piece.

The cast features some fantastic character actors. E.G. Marshal, Lee J. Cobb, a young Jack Klugman, Jack Warden. No "superstars", excepting Fonda himself, who also produced. Ed Begley Jr's dad had a wonderful tirade trying to explain what "those" people were like and that's know he knows the boy is lying. He even goes on to say "Oh, sure, there are some good things about 'em, too!" putting it a border fence reference away from a Trump speech. Nice to see how far we've come in almost sixty years.

I've had jury duty three times, and sat on two juries. Even though one was a murder case, never did it approach the drama seen here. Never-the-less, 12 Angry Men rings true. Courtroom dramas (this not actually being one) are notoriously inauthentic. But here little things and big were handled true to life. Used to illustrate team dynamics in teamwork training, this character study is claustrophobic, intense, and authentic. It failed to turn a profit or win an Oscar, but it succeeded in excellence. AMRU 4.
"Baltimore? That's like being hit in the head with a crowbar once a day."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

One Million Years B.C. (1966)

Our story begins One Million Years B.C., or 1,001,966 years before the films release, which is an oddly specific date. As the narrator says, this is when the Earth was just beginning. The Earth is 4,543,000,000 years old, so this was when it was a mere 4,541,998,034 years old, which too is an oddly specific date. So, actually, the story begins with us completely dispensing with the idea of it making any scientific or logical sense.

The Rock Tribe, peopled with brunettes, is brutal and warlike. Our hero Tumak is cast out of the tribe during one of their nonsensical grunting and grabbing ceremonies. He finds a cave with water and some sort of indoor pine tree that produces edible fruit, but he has to leave when the Morlocks come. Later he stumbles onto another tribe. Not sure what they were called. The narrator had given up by then. They carried shells with them, so let's call them the SHELL tribe! Yea, that works.

Anyhow, the Shell Tribe is peopled by blonds who make their cave comfortable and inviting. Totally interior decorators, these people are. They are nice and treat this injured new human. He can't stop his grunty and grabby ways, so off he goes with hot Loana (Raquel Welch) in tow. Have we heard this before? Why yes, as it is a remake of the 1940 One Million B.C., a film with basically no dialog, and the story was copied almost verbatim! They added a few more monster fight scenes, and had the talents of Ray Harryhausen, but the end result was amazingly similar.

So, the question is, did this film need to be remade? All it added was color, slightly better effects, and more cleavage. Otherwise it was quite dull. But let's hand it to Hammer Films. It was a HUGE money maker and movie poster is absolutely iconic. Although noticed in Fantastic Voyage, this was this film that made Raquel an international sex symbol.

Having seen the original, I felt I needed to see the remake. Maybe I would have liked it more had the order been reversed, but that's not what happened. Raquel's boobies not-with-standing, this is a fairly uninteresting movie. AMRU 2.5.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Kid (1921)

A woman has a baby out of wedlock. The father does not take responsibility, so she leaves the child in a car she thinks is owned by a rich family. Unfortunately, the car was used by thieves, who ditch the baby in an alley. A tramp (Charles Chaplin) finds the baby and raises him as his own.

This is an excellent early example of Chaplin's mastery of visual storytelling, but also an amazing example how a six year old can carry a film. Child Star (and troubled middle-ager) Jackie Coogan steals the show, not just with his cuteness but his stage presence as well. This is no precocious child mugging for the camera. He really seems as if he understood acting.

Coogan would marry Betty Grable (first in a string), have his career falter, do a lot of television, and end up being uncle Fester on The Addams Family. He would die at the ripe old age of Bowie-Rickman years old. He also starred in the wonderfully terrible Mesa of Lost Women. I'll have to remember it next time I'm in the move for schlock.

Baby-Momma was played by Edna Purviance, a frequent co-star and sometimes lover of Chaplin. They may have been happy together had Charlie not kept getting teenage girls pregnant. This time with other co-star Lita Grey, credited as "Flirtatious Angel". Lita would be his second pregnant teen wife. Side note: Chaplin's forth and final wife would be born four years after this films release.

Chaplin had already built a reputation as a quality filmmaker, but The Kid may be his first masterpiece. Short for a feature film, it showed what he could do with time and resources. It, like The General, is a good starter film for people reluctant to try silent movies. It is an impressive and enjoyable film. AMRU 4.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Monkey Business (1931)

The FOUR Marx Brothers (yea, we're still dealing with Zeppo at this time) are stowaways on an ocean liner. They spend their time running away from the crew and become caught up in a conflict between a small time hood and a retired mob boss. Standard Marx Brothers bits apply.

This may be the least interesting Marx Brothers film, short of A Night in Casablanca. Nothing particularly compelling or interesting here. This was the first Marx Brothers film made specifically for the screen, and the first produced in Hollywood. Their films do seem to get better after this one, so maybe they needed to find their voice again.

Thelma Todd took what may have been the Margaret Dumont part because she was younger and prettier. Todd would return in Horse Feathers, and Dumont would pick up again in Duck Soup. Then Todd was murdered.

So, what's the deal with Zeppo anyhow? The big three all had their distinct look and mannerisms. But Zeppo was, well, a poor man's romantic lead. He took over for Gummo as the straight man the act simply didn't need. In their vaudeville days (and apparently in their film career to a small extent) he would substitute for one of his brothers from time to time. Zeppo was present for the first five films before joining Gummo as a talent agent.

No real highs here, but no real lows either. Just consistently meh. It falls in the "kinda short and not painful to watch" category I seem to find, but no real reason to go out of your way to see it. AMRU 2.5.
"Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty."

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ma and Pa Kettle (1949)

Poor rural family with fifteen children is about to be evicted from their home when they unexpectedly win a free house of the future. 1949 future, that is. When the oldest Kettle child (Richard Long) returns from college, he tries to help the clan acclimate to this fancy living.

Not unlike The Beverly Hillbillies, the Kettles are fish out of water. They originally appeared in 1947's The Egg and I, a fish out of water story in the opposite direction. Newlyweds Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert move to a chicken farm and meet the Kettles. The Kettles were so popular they stared in (oh my god!) nine low budget comedies. If IMdb rating are to be believed, none were particularly better or worse than the others.

So, we are to laugh at the Kettles for their backward was (even by bumbkin standards). They are poor, dirty, lazy (well, Pa anyhow), and uneducated. Except Tom, who returns from college with a gentleman's diction. He has invented a new kind of chick hatchery. You see, a better place for the young chicks to live means they will have a better future. Get it? A modern HOME for CHICKS so that they have a better chance to prosper! Seriously, you get it, right?

Old friends will remember Richard Long from House on Haunted Hill, a schlock favorite of mine. I also remember him from Big Valley of my childhood, and maybe Nanny and the Professor. He did a pile of television before dying at the ripe old age of younger-than-me. I should get my heart checked.

Just about every stereotype of poor southerners are played for laughs here. Except racism, thankfully. No black people are to be seen and the Indians were trusted friends.

These low budget, quick production numbers were quite successful, but not all that funny. There wasn't a gawfau to be found. I am sort of glad a saw it so that I know what the Kettles are all about, but I don't think I'll force myself to see another. Fairly short and not painful to watch. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015: My Film Blog Year in Review

It's January again so it's time for me to recap my film watching life of 2015, an annual tradition hotly anticipated by people named me. First thing to note is this blog received much better attention than last. In fact it's had the most posts since 2011. That indicates the lack of any personal bad news, so there's that. Here's to hoping for no personal bad news in 2016!

I hit the theater only three times in 2015, which is actually up from previous years. Mockingjay 2 was a slight disappointment. Not exactly in its demographic, clearly a film I was obligated to see with the family. I did force the issue and make my boys see Fury Road. This was more of a trick than it should because everyone lolligags when it's not their movie of choice. We barely got there on time and my sons loved it. Wifey did not attend, and hasn't seen it yet. It sits on my dining room table, unseen on New Years Eve. It shouldn't have been that hard of a sell. It was the best film I saw in a theater in many years.

Then, of course, we saw The Force Awakens. I saw the original trilogy in the theaters, the first several times. I saw them re-released in the late nineties. And I saw the abominable prequels in the theater. Couldn't stop now. My oldest, an EU stalwart, refused to watch on principle. It was excellent, the second best film I saw. In a theater, that is.

Movies On The Block shows old films on the side of a building in Downtown Providence. It's a great experience. Would be better still if there were porta potties, but I won't go there. I got to see Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Jaws, The Shining, Frankenstein, and Dracula, in that order. I can't wait until June to start again.

Additionally an eccentric friend, who owns a masonic temple (not kidding) started inviting friends over and projecting films on a wall. We saw The Holy Grail and The Princess Bride. He intends on doing this every month. This man, living alone in a giant commercial building, appears to fancy himself as a phantom in his own opera.

So, how did I do with the old movies? Twelve of the 54 films were either Sci-Fi or Horror, an unusually low ratio (I think - didn't run the numbers). Five of the nine horrors came in October. Seven films were silent and a surprising four were musicals. However, two musicals were Marx Brothers films and the other two were long time personal favorites.

I got in three Hitchcock and one Kubrick films. I do intend on covering all of theirs. I intended on hitting Bond, William Castle, and maybe even a Russ Meyer film, but that didn't happen. Not that I'm disappointed. Something interesting is I saw six Cary Grant films after not seeing one since January of 2013, a gap of over two years! His movies always seem to please. I saw only one best picture, but they don't interest me all that much. I'll try to do one more this year.

The big winners (skipping the films I was already a big fan of) are Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Shining. I had seen Breakfast before but didn't remember it how good it was. I rewatched a scene to get my quote right and I felt a strong compulsion to rewatch the entire movie right then. My film education continues. I can't explain how I missed The Shining all these years. It was fantastic. The Road Warrior, The Philadelphia Story, and The Great Dictator all stuck with me as well.

The big loser is Mad Max. I loved the others in the series, and I liked it's spirit, but this one was a mess. I also have to give nods to the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. Tedious, racist, and bizarre. It could have been so much more, and I could have rated it lower. Also THX 1138 was a terrible bore.

My film resolutions are to visit the theater more often. To keep up the film a week pace I managed. To Attend something at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. To do more of what I am doing, and learn.

Happy 2016, peoples!