Sunday, January 19, 2020

Animal House (1978)

We follow the shenanigans of a college fraternity through two freshmen pledges and two older students.

I watched Animal House (introducing it to a son) with no intention of writing it up. Didn’t seem to be in the wheelhouse of the blog. But it was released in 1978, I didn’t see it in theaters, so why the hell not.

The Mayor’s daughter was played by the totally not underage Sarah Holcomb. She also appeared in Caddyshack with a terrible Scottish accent, and two other forgettable films, then disappeared from Hollywood. I think of Amadeus when I see Tom Hulce, but he is arguably better known as Pinto. By the way, look up the IMDb trivia how he got that name.

With each viewing I pick up on small details that I either missed for forgot about. But that’s not the key to Animal House’s endurance. It’s the sheer creativeness and hilarity of the performances. This is John Belushi at his absolute best. This coming from a life-long Blues Brothers fan. His status as a non-principle character allowed him to channel his inner animal. Brilliant.

There are few great jokes in Animal House. It is mostly a series of great scenes stitched together. There is little story or character arc. Just craziness. The end result is a cultural touchstone for a generation. Everyone should watch it. Unless you are a terrible person, then you shouldn’t, and be sad. Karen Allen was hot. AMRU 4.5.
“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Horny teens deal with life in a depressingly small 1950’s Texas town. Think American Graffiti if it were completely different.

First off, wow the cast is amazing. Our three principal characters are played by Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, and some other guy. Supporting actors include Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid, Ben Johnson, and Cloris Leachman. Each hint at interesting back stories we don’t fully explore. I can imagine a TV series that slowly explores each character over many seasons. There’s also a movie house but it serves only as a metaphor.

Everyone has secrets but secrets are not kept long in a small town. Our protagonist Sonny finds this out. In the end people grow up, move on, and occasionally die. The Last Picture Show is a fascinating film. It has a different look and feel than films that came before. It wouldn’t be right to say that nothing ‘happens’, but there is no big story arc. Just stuff and its consequences. Nothing happens but in fact, everything happens. Think American Graffiti if it were completely different.

The Last Picture Show is a remarkable film and I’ve done a poor job selling it. So if my description doesn’t convince you, at least watch it for Cybill’s pool scene. AMRU 4.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

2019 Retrospective

A little bit closer to form, I pressed the pedal towards the end of the year to get north of 40 posts. More specifically to beat 2017’s 41 posts. Ya gotta have goals. I still have three movies to be posted but I broke a personal rule and posted out of order. I did this to get the Christmas movie in by year’s end. Also because I found the next film in line hard to write about. You’ll see that soon. It’s a good one. The movie, not the post.

I hit quite a few greats this past year. Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Rio Bravo, Chinatown, and The Exorcist being the tops, with The Killers, Dial M for Murder, Being There, and The Omen as honorable mentions. I also picked off a few experimental, avant garde films like Eraserhead, House, and Suspiria. Weird ass films, all. The film that stuck with me the most is Chinatown. I didn't forget about it, Jake. I’ve been doing this blog for over ten years yet I seem to be tip-toeing around great films. Now I find myself worrying that I am running out of Greats to watch. More on that thought later.

I did watch two Christmas films but should have skipped them both. One boring and forgettable, the other a pale copy of the original made only nine years earlier. For next year maybe I’ll target Meet Me in St. Louis, 3 Godfathers, or I’ll be Seeing You. Here is a case where the Greats are in short supply. I saw two more Sherlock Holmes films. Without my mom, my heart’s not in them. I think I have three left. I’ll try to finish them off this year.

Of the thirteen horror or horror-like films, The Exorcist was the best. I had long looked forward to seeing The Love Wanga, the second zombie film ever made. I owned it for more than a year before watching it. I expected little and received it in spades. Rosemary’s Baby is probably the best horror film I have yet to watch. At least in my arbitrary pre-1980 ‘old’ category.

I watched quite a few disappointing movies, especially towards the end of the year, but I must give the title of worst film of the year to The Terror. Such a wasted opportunity. More confounding than terrible, it’s a film that should not exist.

I’ve seen almost all of the better movies by the Hollywood legends. Almost all of the greatest films. Just about all of the better Christmas movies. But I will not let that worry me. I will continue to pick off the top films. When I started this, I figured there were only a couple hundred films worth reviewing, and after almost eleven years and over five hundred films later, there is still so much more to watch. Not to mention newer movies I don’t blog about. So, onward and upward. Let’s see if I can hit fifty posts again. And I should watch more silent films. Oh, and I will not fear long movies. I will not fear long movies ...

Saturday, December 28, 2019

In The Good Old Summertime (1949)

A remake of The Shop Around the Corner (1940), now set in an 1890’s American music shop, and with color, songs, and Judy Garland! What could be better? The original, in every way.

Let’s make a few things clear. Technicolor does not necessarily make a film better, the songs were tedious, and Judy was a poor actress. But let’s give it some credit. The change of setting was a good idea. A music show makes sense given that it’s now a musical. It’s nice to see the older Buster Keaton get a paycheck. Van Johnson wasn’t a terrible substitute for Jimmy Stewart and Judy should have been an improvement on the forgettable Margaret Sullavan. So what went wrong?

It is an almost scene by scene remake of the original excluding the most dramatic parts! The tone was all wrong giving it a more comedic, almost slapstick quality. We are not charmed when the love interests are introduced. I was annoyed. We are left with the formula of add nothing except forgettable songs, subtract much of the charm and drama, and replace actors with poor substitutes. Cuddles Sakall might work in small roles but he was not up to the task of taking on Frank Morgan. And let’s face it. Ernst Lubitsch was the master.

In The Good Old Summertime is not remembered as one of Judy’s best, but fans will like it because that’s what they do. Given my druthers I would have watched Meet Me in St. Louis this season but a DVR issue sabotaged that idea. And after watching this and The Clock, I think I’m done with Judy for a while. If anything good came from this experience, it’s realizing how much I actually like The Shop Around the Corner. AMRU 2.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Good girl Jenny wants to get married (shush, don’t tell anyone!) but can’t because she must care for her doddering father, the Parson. That’s like an Angelican priest. Prospective hubby-to-be doesn’t understand why little sister doesn’t step up and take care of pops, but things are complicated. And there’s just no talking to father. You know, because he’s a Parson. So, naughty little sis, soldier bro, crazy aunts, and random guy show up to celebrate Christmas and discuss family issues.

I needed a new Christmas movie for the season and seem to have hit all the biggies. TCM made me aware of this one and I watched it the night it aired. They liked it way better than I.

Jenny's soldier brother is played by Denholm Elliott. You know, Marcus Brody from Indiana Jones. You won't recognize him. I'm was somewhat put off by the fact that 31 year old Jenny was played by 45 year old Celia Johnson, who apparently skipped makeup day. She was seventeen years older than her fiancee and six younger than her dad, Ralph Richardson. Ralph's pretty famous, but I don't expect to see too many of his films. He was the Supreme Being in Time Bandits.

The Holly and the Ivy is a British production based on a British play, and few films are British-er. Chuck full of overly formal conversations using understated expressions that will make you wonder what the hell is going on half the time. What we see is loads of set up before the family overcomes all of their problems in about ninety seconds right at the end of the film.

I wanted to like Holly and Ivy, and was tempted to give it a generous 3, but it’s fairly uninteresting. All is resolved but little is revealed, and we ignore the fact that Parson Pops turns out not to be the judgmental and narrow-minded clergyman his family and the entire town know him to be, for their entire lives.

Some of the family members faith has slipped and a redeeming feature is that rather than have them be rejuvenated by the spirit of Christmas, the father learns to accept them for who they are. A far better moral. I just wish it wasn’t so damn boring. AMRU 2.5.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Dark Waters (1944)

Pretty young woman (Merle Oberon) survives a u-boat attack that killed the rest of her family. She has no one to stay with despite apparently being fairly wealthy now. As luck would have it an aunt and uncle she’s never met live on a plantation not too far from the hospital. An overly helpful doctor offers to take her there and check in on her constantly. Things are not as they seem! Or they are?

I have a better film on my DVR. But it was late and I didn’t want to watch a two plus hour movie. So, instead I found something on Amazon Prime that was only 89 minutes, after twenty minutes of searching. Smart, aren’t I? Dark Waters sounded like an interesting film-noir. Wrong on both counts.

Merle Oberon is a rather enigmatic leading lady. Quite pretty, somewhat exotic, and a pretty good actress, but her films are mostly forgettable. After Wuthering Heights (1939), none of them have more than a few thousand votes on IMDb. 1939 was a bad year for your best film. Despite playing the delicate flower (why does a rich woman in her 30’s need relatives to stay with?) she was charming and had chemistry with her obligatory romantic partner.

The cast was rounded out by Elisha Cook, Jr. (playing an Elisha Cook, Jr. type) and Thomas Mitchell (speaking of 1939) as Uncle’s business partner. Both great character actors that always seem to find their way into great films. And films like this. I presume Merle was playing a woman much younger than herself making our creepy doctor's behavior seem even worse as he looked every bit of his 40 years plus a few.

Dark Waters (not to be confused with Dark Waters, or Dark Waters, or even Dark Waters) is labeled film-noir but it’s not really. It has some of the elements but in actuality its just a crime drama. I wasn’t expecting a “good” film but I did have higher hopes based on the cast. But it’s the film that lets the cast down. The audio and video quality could have been better but the main flaw is the pacing. Scenes drag as the director beats us over the head with the “good guy is good” message. Certain elements didn’t make sense, like, “what the hell is the plan?” When you spend an hour and a half on a small story the audience should not be left guessing. Also, they treat a lamp briefly going out then back on like a paranormal event. They are in a house, deep, deep in the bayou, during world war 2. Faulty wires anyone? The real mystery is how they have electricity in the first place.

I watched it, liked the performances, and was left disappointed. If they cut ten minutes and wrote a more satisfying ending, you might have something there. As is, AMRU 2.5.

I will not fear long movies, I will not fear long movies, I will not fear long movies ...

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Clock (1945)

A serviceman (Robert Walker) in New York on a 48 hour leave bumbles into a young woman (Judy Garland) and coerces her into showing him around town. Despite her better judgement and a total lack of chemistry, he monopolizes all of her free time. Will love bloom?

Robert Walker is better known, to me at least, for his performance in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (Criss Cross), whose premiere he barely lived long enough to see. His hyper-innocent lost puppy dog character in The Clock was reminiscent of his upbeat psychopath on the Train.

Judy is a Hollywood legend, one I have yet to fully appreciate. Despite her legend status she appeared in only 34 feature films, nine with Mickey Rooney. I have a couple of her better films on my life list (this is the second of her films I have seen) but a movie-a-day calendar recommended The Clock. Primarily a singer, this is one of only three films where she does not sing. I’m not sure if that would have saved it. Like her co-star, Judy’s life was cut short by a toxic lifestyle. Our two leads would live to the ripe old age of 79, combined.

Prolific character actor James Gleason has a memorable scene with his real-life wife. A veteran of 135 films over thirty years, he has appeared in four films I’ve seen prior. Keenan Wynn had an amusing scene as a drunk. He has popped up in many movies.

I’m just going to come out and say it. Judy wasn’t much of an actress. She was charming and cute, but I don’t see any reason why her Alice would fall in love with Walker’s Joe. In fact there were more than enough red flags. If your relationship begins anything like how this film depicts, run. Fast.

The Clock is a somewhat amusing non-com romance that some will be charmed with, but not me. It drags in parts, lacks an emotional hook, and the leads have no chemistry. Maybe that’s because Judy was screwing the director. AMRU 2.5.