Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some Like it Hot (1959)

And here we have a bona fide classic, the AFI's #1 comedy of all time. Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder's classic comedy about gangsters, cross-dressing, and dumb blonds.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are Joe and Jerry, two down on their luck musicians who have recently lost their job playing with a band in a speakeasy. When they witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and become the target of the mob, they're forced to dress as Josephine and Daphne and take a job with an all-girl band. The band's singer Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) soon becomes the center of both love and lust for the two men.

The film is obviously, a very funny film. The dialogue sparkles and the three leads are all brilliant at bringing out the humor from each of their characters. Marilyn Monroe may not be regarded as a particularly talented actress (I haven't seen enough to make a real judgment myself), but she's wonderful here. She's so ditzy and earnest that you buy that these two characters are able to pass as two ugly woman.

There's not much to say about the film that hasn't already been said, it's a brilliant and funny film that is able to sneak in some interest commentary on gender as well. Definitely one you need to watch.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Ali: Fears Eats the Soul (1974)

Here's Fassbinder's German classic Ali: Fears Eats the Soul which is a remake of the Douglas Sirk film All That Heaven Allows which I actually wrote about, so check that entry out as well.

Where the film mainly diverges is removing the class division of the original film (with a wealthy widow falling in lover with a gardener) and instead adds a racial aspect in addition to the age different by having a widowed office cleaner falling in love with an Arab mechanic.

The story begins with Emmi (Brigitte Mira) stopping into an Arab bar in order to avoid a rainstorm. There she meets Alie (El Hedi ben Salem) and the two begin a romance that threatens their social standing as the two deal with racial prejudices at the time.

The film is going to be hard for some people to watch. Since it's a very Brechtian film. For those who don't know, Brecht was a figure in German theater who believed that theater (or in this case film) should not cause emotional responses in the audience instead we should take everything at face value and reflect on it. In other words, theater should be all head (No pun intended) and no heart. Because of this, the dialogue can be presented in an almost monotone manner by some of the actors and some more emotional moments are hampered by the fact that the film is dubbed over. I don't mean that I'm watching an English dubbed version, but all of the German dialogue was dubbed over post production, so you have moments where audio doesn't 100% match with that's going on the screen so it can be jarring.

If you can get past this method of acting, you'll find a very well-balanced story. It's far too easy when dealing with stories about forbidden love to have the central relationship as this perfect entity that is threatened by societal forces. Well, this isn't true in the film. We get to see that the differences in age, race, and culture do make a difference and that maybe this isn't a perfect pairing.

The film is also a rich commentary on society and human nature, with a lot of focus on what it means to be an outsider, the circumstances surrounding it and the ways in which people are asked back into society and the reasons why.

It's not going to be loved by everyone, but it's a film that has a lot to say and does so with an interesting twist on the melodrama subgenre.

And if you are interested in watching it, I also suggest seeing Douglas Sirk's original film since there's references to the original within this retelling.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974)

PAM GRIER IS IN THE HOUSE Y'ALL. Tonight I am looking at the blaxploitation one-two punch of Coffy and Foxy Brown. You may be wondering why I'm doing one entry on two movies, well, it's simply because the movies are VERY alike. In fact, Foxy Brown was originally going to be a sequel to Coffy.

Both films feature the magnificent creature Pam Grier as an avenging angel, punishing pimps, drug dealers, and other corrupt criminals due to a wrong done to her. In Coffy, she's getting justice for her little sister who now has to live in a hospital due to getting hooked on drugs, and in Foxy Brown her undercover informant boyfriend is murdered right before the two head off to start a new life. And in both she sets about the bring down the empires responsible.

Coffy starts out a bit faster, since her vendetta against the drug kingpins is established before the movie even starts, where in Foxy Brown it takes a bit for her to begin her one-woman rampage. But regardless of which film it is, you will be entertained. The soundtrack can only be described as "groovy" and Pam Grier is a brilliant actress and a wonderful action heroine. Of course, these are low budget blaxploitation films, so don't expect a high gloss, big budget epic.

But who really cares? It's PAM GRIER killing people! You'll see her pull a gun from her epic afro, braid razor blades into her hair for a cat fight, and get into a karate fight in a lesbian bar. It's pure entertainment.

The films are both on Netflix Watch Now, and they are worth your time. I may be recommending this out of my love for the bizarre and the kitschy, but if you share any of that love, then you need to see these movies, you will not be bored.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Please Give (2010)

I'm sorry for not posting in so long. I could make an excuse about the holidays or that I had some sort of family trauma, but in reality, I simply fell out of the movie watching habit for a while and I couldn't think of much to add. While that's a pretty piss poor excuse on its own, I've been watching more movies as of late, mostly recent due to my attempt to catch up on Oscar season (Which really shot my in the foot given the results of last year's Best Actress win). But, my long dead laptop has been fixed, so I should be able to post article more frequently since I could really only use the family computer in the mornings.

I considered posting on the amazing Winter's Bone but I decided to go with a really great movie that slid under the radar and probably should have resulted in some Oscar love for Catherine Keener.

The film follows Kate (Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) a New York couple who own a furniture store, where most of their stock is provided by offering cheap deals to the children of the recently deceased who are eager to clean out their parents' now empty homes. They're also anticipating the death of their 91 year old neighbor Andra (Ann Morgan Gilbert) since it will allow for them to expand their apartment. Their lives become intertwined with that of Andra's two granddaughters Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet). Rebecca dutifully takes care of her grandmother, feeling a sense of obligation and loyalty towards her whereas Mary has a rather different view of their grandmother, seeing her as a selfish bitch.

Catherine Keener really delivers a wonderful performance here, even though the cast as a whole is incredibly strong (Especially Peet, who surprised me with her incredibly bitchy lines). Kate is a rather conflicted woman, her life is funded by the death and misfortune of others, so as a way to comfort herself, she tries to do small acts of kindness to alleviate this guilt such a giving money to the homeless or even letting a transient sleep in her apartment. The film also demonstrates small little self-perpetuated lies that she tells in an effort to make her actions seem more charitable, such as her insistence that the building super's wife is ill, when the film later shows that it's not the case at all.

The film is smartly written and makes an effort to show that none of these characters are perfect, no one is "right". Rebecca and Mary have differing opinions on their grandmother, and through watching the actions of Andra, we see that neither is totally right. Even Kate and Alex's daughter Abby (Sarah Steele) exhibits teenage angst, , insight, and childishness. It's refreshing to see a movie where the characters so so well-rounded.

Plus, the film explores a universal trait that most people share. We all feel guilt in our lives about some action we did or some mean thing we said and we use acts of kindness as a way to pat our own backs, as reassurance that "Hey, I'm not a horrible person". It's not the best human trait, but it's something that's nice to see explored in such capable hands.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)

Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball are dueling dancers in this film directed by one of the few female directors of the time, Dorothy Arzner.

Times are tough for the Judy O'Brian (O'Hara), she's a dedicated ballerina and is having a hard time landing jobs in the world that is more interested in sex appeal. Her fellow dance troupe partner is Bubbles (Ball), a brassy girl who can swing her hips in ways Judy could only dream. This sort of sisterly rivalry between the two is the main focus of the film, with a romantic triangle of sorts occurring (but the guy is a grade-A prick so it's hard to really care).

What's interesting about this story is that it's really a story of a young woman's journey into adulthood, but wrapped in the trappings of a musical-ish romance. We get to see various dance numbers which use dance to great affect. Judy is very classic ballet, but Bubbles is pure burlesque, perfectly establishing what kind of girls they are. But it's a very Hollywood type of film, given a touch of a modern edge with its main focus being on a female character's journey, especially considering how the end plays out.

Maureen O'Hara is good as a sort of insecure good girl, but Lucille Ball steals the film away from her. Bubbles may be a bitchy character, but she's given depth and Ball pulls it off perfectly. She's strong, smart and caring, but she presents this fun and slightly mean persona to the world almost as armor. It's a great performance to see especially if you've only associated her with her legendary sitcom.

The film itself is actually pretty good. As I said, the romance plot does hurt the film, because the male character is not worth the sort of girlhood swooning the Judy does (but that could be entirely the point), but it's a very entertaining film about the relationship between two very different women.

Friday, October 15, 2010

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

I'm not even going to try to make an excuse, kids.

So here we have the classic soap in its purest form. The kind where middle class suburban women walk around in fabulous coats and live in fear of being gossiped about. If you've seen Peyton Place, it's a lot like it.

All That Heaven Allows is a melodrama about an older, middle-class widow Cary (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with her younger gardener (Rock Hudson). And of course, societal pressures fight to keep them apart.

That's it folks, it's one of those movies where the plot is established in the first few minutes (or at least hinted at) and the rest of the film is spent waiting for these two crazy kids to finally get together, with the likes of the neighborhood bitch and Cary's horribly obnoxious kids complaining and sniping enough to make Cary second guess her love.

It's in this sense that the movie is a bit of a sly social satire, using the film (much like Peyton Place) to condemn the sort of gossipy, country club set who place reputation and image over happiness and truth.

The two leads are serviceable, given the material. As I said, it's a straight up soap, so they aren't given much to do besides embrace, kiss, and look longingly at each other. Jane Wyman effectively portrays the conflicted woman, but her character is written as being so weak and malleable that it can be a bit hard to watch at times.

But this is also a movie where you're either going to love it or hate it. It's an absolutely gorgeous film, but it's such a soap opera that it's not going to appeal to those who are maybe more cynical or having acquired a taste of the good old fashioned Hollywood melodrama.

So, if you're into the DRAMA of the suburban middle class, I highly recommend this movie. It's exactly what you'd expect.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Aliens (1986)

Ok, I'm aware that it's been a while since my last post and that my previous post was on the oh-so-stupid, but oh-so-fun Salt, and I appear to be following up with another action movie. But luckily for you, I have two recently watched old-school Hollywood movies to post on, so hold your horses.

Aliens stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the lone survivor of the original film (Which I haven't seen, my cousins were visiting and this film was on Netflix Watch Now and they insisted we watch it). After 50+ years in hypersleep, Ripley awakens to discover that the planet where her ship first encountered the alien from the first film is now a colony, and she is asked to join a group of Space Marines to investigate the loss of contact with the colony. Of course, it takes no genius to figure out that aliens have overrun the colony and have taken every colonist except for a young girl named Newt, whom Ripley bonds with and will stop at nothing to ensure that the young girl survives.

The film is a brilliant action movie on its own, but features a lot of great suspense and tension as the group tries to survive on an overrun colony. But ti also serves as an examination of the maternal instinct, matching two "mothers" in a life or death battle to protect their "child" by having Ripley do battle with an Alien queen. It's in this context that Sigourney Weaver blows you away, justifying her Oscar nomination for her performance. Ripley isn't a badass, per se, she doesn't know how to use guns and she isn't a one-women army, but instead she's resourceful, intelligent, tough, and fiercely maternal. It's an important role for the portrayal of women in film, because she's not just a woman, she's a fully realized character and her gender really has nothing to do with it, she has no romantic leads, she isn't ostracized because she's a woman. She happens to be a great character who just happens to be female. And by the end of the movie, you will feel as exhausted and drained as Ripley, and I have no idea how Sigourney Weaver could do it, to walk on set and film a scene and appear as if she's been put through the ringer and about to drop in a heap, but she does and it's to the film's benefit.

Even though it's a sci-fi/action movie, it's one of the best movies I've seen. It's massively entertaining and insanely well-made.