Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

I apologize for being so lazy, dear readers, but school was particularly hectic last week, between two tests and the sudden revelation by a professor that I had to write a 10-15 page paper in a week (There was no procrastination on my part, just so you know).

Anyway, here is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the Tennessee Williams classic about lust and love. The film stars Paul Newman as Brick,a former high school football star who is a bit too fond of the bottle, and breaks his leg one night after attempting to jump some hurdles while drunk. Brick and his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) are in Mississippi, visiting Brick's parents because of his father, Big Daddy's birthday. Unknown to Big Daddy, he is dying of cancer, and the birthday festivities, Brick's alcoholism, and the scheming of Brick's brother and sister-in-law to ensure a large chuck of the inheritance once Big Daddy dies brings to light the issue plaguing the family and the marriage of Brick and Maggie.

The acting in the film is phenomenal. I know it's a crime, but this is the only Paul Newman film I've seen, and he's amazing in it, portraying a deep level of bitterness and hurt over his upbringing, which focused more on being spoiled as opposed to being loved. Elizabeth Taylor is also in fine form, showing a woman who is madly in love with a man who is repulsed by her. Burl Ives, who plays Big Daddy is just as good as the leads, he is larger than life and shows the strength and cunning that made Big Daddy the success he is today.

The film largely plays on the theme of truth and lies, mainly in the context of the lies we construct around ourselves in order to function, so that we don't have to face certain truths of our lives. That it's someone's fault that we're so messed up, or that deep down, someone really loves us. It's heartbreaking to see these various lies shatter upon the heads of the characters, leaving them to face the stark reality of the state they're in and the choices they've made.

It's a brilliant film that I completely recommend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

As a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, I was somewhat apprehensive about watching a film adaptation of one of her most famous novels, but luckily, the film is pretty good.

The film (like most mysteries) features a group of strangers on board the Orient Express, a luxury train traveling through Europe and Asia. When one passenger is murdered during the night, famed detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) must solve the case. Of the suspects, we have a Count (Michael York) and his wife (Jacqueline Bisset), a British Colonel (Sean Connery), an annoying American tourist (Lauren Bacall), a missionary (Ingrid Bergman), a timid secretary (Anthony Perkins), and a Russian princess (Wendy Hiller). As you can see, the cast is pretty star-studded.

The film is a lavish production, with wonderful settings and costumes, with adds to the elegance of the whole film, and the direction by Sidney Lumet is tight and slightly claustrophobic, which it should be.

As for the acting, the cast is universally steller, even if some roles are a bit miscast. Lauren Bacall, I love her to death, but she doesn't really fit the frumpy, irritating character described in the books. She seems more like a cool older lady who you want to hang out with. But luckily, Albert Finney is insanely good as Poirot, completely and totally nailing his odd quirks, the body language, his humor, his slight arrogance, as well as his mental brilliance. It's a wonderful performance that was justified in its Oscar nomination.

Ingrid Bergman actually won an Oscar for her role, which really only consists of one brief minute scene, but she totally owns it, creating a character who is scared, saddened, and slightly coming undone due to her surroundings.

The film takes some liberties with the book (some character's roles are shortened to only a few lines), and the overall mystery is a bit easier to figure out, but the film is a lavish production of one of the greatest mysteries of all-time with a wonderful cast. So what's not to love?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paper Moon (1973)

A wonderful homage to depression-era films featuring a brilliant (and historical Oscar-winning performance) by Tatum O'Neal.

Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) is a conman who travels the country, deceiving people out of their money (which is kinda mean, since it's the depression). Anyway, the film begins at the funeral of Addie Loggins' (Tatum O'Neal) mother, a woman who wasn't exactly chaste. This woman once had an affair with Moses, so it's possible that the young girl is his daughter. He is charged with taking Addie to live with her aunt, and along the way finds the man who hit Addie's mother with his car and cons him out of $200, claiming that it belongs to the young girl. Thus, Addie claims that Moses owes her $200 and refuses to leave him, and the two become partners, conning people along their road trip.

The plot of the film is essentially three different "episodes", the forming of their partnership, the disruption of their partnership by the inclusion of Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), a "Harem Dancer" Moses picks up at a fair, and then a con involving a bootlegger in which Addie and Moses may be in over their heads.

The film itself is really good, but the best thing about it is the young Tatum O'Neal as Addie. The character is almost like the anti-child character, because she's like a child. She's not a miniature adult like we see in a lot of films, she's just a normal kid. And O'Neal brings a great deal of cleverness as well as hurt to the performance, creating a fully realized character where there might not have been one in the screenplay, commanding the screen and overshadowing her father.

Another standout is the ever-brilliant Madeline Kahn as Trixie Delight (she also received an Oscar nomination). Like O'Neal, she creates a detailed character in what could have been a one joke role. Trixie is obnoxious, constantly needing to pull over to "go Winky-Tinky", and calling Moses "daddy". But there's one scene that suggests that she hasn't had the easiest life, and Kahn pulls it off without any sort of falseness about it.

Ryan O'Neal is good as well, making Moses a charming, yet slightly slimy character, and he also portrays his budding friendship with Addie quite well. They never become buddy-buddy, instead they rely on each other, and trust each other enough to perform cons together.

The script is sharp and funny, smartly dividing the film into 3 different stories to avoid the overall idea of the film from becoming stale or tired. The direction is great as well, with Peter Bogdanovich using a lot of one-take tracking shots and stark black and white cinematography.

This is a great film, one that I've seen several times now, and I can't see myself growing tired of it any time soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Village (2004)

Ok, for the most part, I've been pretty safe in my movie choices and what I say about them, so I figured it's time to insert a bit of controversy (though, it's kinda mild) into the mix.

I hate The Village.

Granted, this opinion isn't exactly a rebellious one (one look at the Rottentomatoes rating for this film actually puts me in the majority), but I cannot help it.

The film is about a small, 1800's town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dark and scary woods, which are said to be inhabited by "Those We Don't Speak Of", who might possibly be a relation to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Those We Don't Speak of Are Monsters who live in the woods as some sort of bargain between the villagers. They stay out of the woods, and they will stay out of the town.

Living in the town is Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), a blind girl who is in love with Lucius Fox (Joaquin Phoenix), and the film essentially follows their romance as well as the events that lead to Ivy being forced to venture into the woods if she wishes to save the man she loves.

The film itself looks beautiful and the direction is varied and interesting, which is about the only positive things in this film. The acting is generally somber and joyless, everyone seems to have just walked away from a funeral and are incapable of expressing anything other than solemnity. Bryce Dallas Howard is able to inject some sunshine into her role, but everyone else seems so tired and sad.

Plus, the film makes an unforgivable mistake, it lies to you. Now, given that Shyamalan is known for his twists, you're going to expect one in this film, but the problem is that we are instantly established with one fact only to be told otherwise later. I know that there could be an argument made on this, but I'm standing firm. This film lies to you, which is a massive no-no.

In addition, the plot is just dull. Ivy essentally bullies Lucius until he makes some out-of-breath confession of love and instantly we're supposed to care about what happens to these two young'uns, when I didn't give a flying fig. And don't get me started on Adrian Brody as a mentally retarded man, because it's just all kind of ridiculous.

Really, I hate this film. It's so dull, lacking in anything that created a spark of interest inside me, and the film's lie to support its twist pushed it into full blown hatred. It's poorly acted, melodramatic, and franky awful. Don't watch it kids.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Girl From 10th Avenue (1935)

In honor of the recent anniversary of her death (the 8th), I'll make an entry about one of Bette's earliest starring roles.

Bette Davis plays Miriam Brady, a shop girl who discovers the wealthy Geoffrey Sherwood (Ian Hunter) drunk and angry on the streets, yelling at the wedding party of the woman who rejected him for a wealthier man. Miriam takes Geoffrey to a cafe, to avoid the police who may arrest him for being drunk. At the cafe, two of Geoffrey's friends offer Miriam $100 to keep an eye on Geoffrey for the day.

The two wake up the next morning to discover that they had gotten s-faced and married each other. Miriam gives Geoffrey the go-ahead to leave at any time, but he stays with her and she helps keep him sober. But soon Geoffrey's former flame enters the picture, which complicates things.

The film is watchable, only because of Bette Davis. Really, because Ian Hunter is so boring, and so weak that we don't really care about what happens to him. Whereas Bette Davis is dynamic and interesting (though it's a role we've seen from her many times) as a tough, yet sensitive woman who is falling in love with a man who could leave her at any moment.

Plus, the film tries to make Miriam's lower class upbringing and behavior a major factor as to why Geoffrey may leave her, since his old girlfriend is wealthier and refined. The problem with this is that Miriam isn't really shown to be uncouth or anything that would make this such a problem. Her speech isn't really any different from any of the upper class people seen in the film, so the main contributor of the "Will he or won't he stay with her?" conflict isn't even apparent to the viewer.

That said, the film is a decent soap opera, with Bette Davis saving it from total mediocrity, which is common in a lot of her films. So if you're a fan, then see it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn is a widow aided by Cary Grant, who may or may not be who he says he is, in finding a fortune hidden by her now deceased husband.

Hepburn is Regina Lampert, a recently widowed woman who discovers that he now dead husband is not who he claimed to be. After stealing a fortune in American money during World War 2, the deceased Charles Lampert hoodwinked his 4 partners-in-crime and took off with the money, leaving them to face German troops which resulted in the death of one of their number. Now that he's dead, the 3 still-living crooks (Played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) want Regina to hand over the money, which they believe she has.

Unfortunately for her, she doesn't, and she's helped by Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), a man she met on holiday who may or may not be after the money as well.

Grant and Hepburn are wonderful in this film. They have a great deal of chemistry and despite being in his late 50's, Grant is still as charming and suave as ever. Luckily, the film plays up the fact that this is a May-December romance, so it makes the somewhat implausible pairing more believable, especially since they make it clear that Audrey Hepburn's character is pursuing him, not the other way around, so it avoids any sort of creepiness of an older man leering over the younger Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn is gorgeous in the film, and she shines as a woman who was trapped in a loveless marriage who finds herself falling for a man she may or may not be able to trust. The two have great chemistry and their dialogue crackles with wit.

The plot itself is filled with great twists and turns and it always has you guessing until the very end, which makes it all the more enjoyable. Even if you're able to guess a few of the upcoming reveals, I'm sure there are still a few that will take you by surprise.

The film is set in Paris, so it's obviously a gorgeous film at which to look. The settings are lush and beautiful, and Hepburn wears some great and stylish clothes.

It's a wonderful film, entertaining, thrilling, and funny and it features two screen legends reciting a fun and smart script. One to watch.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Letter (1940)

I apologize for not having a new entry recently, but the only movie I've seen of late was Spice World, which is a childhood favorite turned guilty pleasure, and I'm sure that if I did an entry on Spice World, I would soon be chased off by angry villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.

Anyway, here we have another Bette Davis classic, The Letter. Bette Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, a wife of a wealthy rubber plantation owner in Singapore who murders a man in, what she claims to be,
self-defense. Her husband believes her story completely, whereas the family lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) suspects that Leslie may not be telling the truth. This is confirmed when he receives the news there is a letter in the possession of the dead man's widow from Leslie, which sheds some light on the relationship between her and the man she killed.

William Wyler did a great job with directing this film (He's probably made some of Davis' best films), it's very moody and sultry, and he also gets a great performance out of Davis. Leslie Crosbie is someone who is constantly scheming, playing the role of a devoted and pure wife when she's anything but. And Davis portrays this cold, calculating nature perfectly, while also adding the confusion and forced emotionality she would need given her facade of being totally innocent of her crime.

But I must take this time to warn you, dear readers, that the ending of this movie sucks. Now, usually this is the fault of the director or screenwriter, but this movie has a tacked on ending that the crew was forced to add due to the Haye's Code that legislated morality in film. So, if you have an issue with the ending, it's not necessarily the fault of the filmmakers, instead the liability falls into the filmmaking bodies of the time that attempted to control what was and wasn't shown in the movies.

Aside from the ending, the film is fantastic. It's dark, it's moody, it's mysterious, and it has a series of strong performances all around with Bette Davis giving one of her best at the conniving wife. It's really one to see.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Queen Christina (1933)

Greta Garbo gives a wonderful performance in this well-made period piece.

Let it be known from the beginning, that this film requires a large suspension of disbelief, because Miss Garbo is mistaken for a man in this film. And she pretty much looks like she does in the picture to the left when the gender confusion occurs. But anyway, Greta Garbo plays Queen Christina, the Queen of Sweden who took over at a very young age after her father was killed in battle. We jump several years into the future and she's a weary ruler, tired of living her life for Sweden. She's being pressured to marry her cousin, who also happens to be a war hero, but she finds her true love when she is horseback riding in the country side and encounters a Spanish envoy (John Gilbert). He mistakes her for a male, but once the boobs have been revealed, all is well and they fall in love.

Of course, their love can never be revealed, because Sweden is having very strained relationships with Spain, after years of warring with each other, so (as they must do in any sort of royalty romance story) Christina must make a choice between her love and her duty as Queen.

Garbo is great here, she exudes strength and power, but she allows her character to be multi-faceted. When she's addressing her subjects or her advisors, she's very hard, very cold, but when she's with someone she's more comfortable with, we get to see her playful side, her light and happy side. She pulls it off expertly.

The rest of the acting is good, but this is really Greta Garbo's film, I mean "Garbo" is twice as big as the actual title of the film on the DVD, so it's her show to allow to her command the screen with her magnificent presence.

The sets and costumes are all well-made and it appears to be a very lavish production for its time, and it shows, making the palace intrigue and romance more believable and easy to watch.

I should also point out one shocking thing about this movie, it portrays Queen Christina as bisexual. Now, I may be wrong in this assumption, but I was shocked when a female "friend" entered Christina bedroom, only for Christina to greet her by holding her head and kissing her on the mouth before talking about going away together in the country for a few days. Not that lesbians freak me out or anything, but when things like that happen when you're in "Old Movie Watching Mode", you can't believe you eyes.

Of the 3 Garbo performances that I've seen (I've made entires on all of them), this is easily her best, it feels more natural and less "acty" than her other two (not that they were bad), and the character of Queen Christina seems to fit Garbo, a strong woman who also longs for love. It's really one to watch.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932)

A Star-Studded cast perform in this melodrama that chronicles the lives of various guests at the famous Grand Hotel in Germany as they interact, fight, and fall in love.

Plot-wise, the film is essentially divided between the stories of these guests, which eventually merge with other stories and take on new stories and so on and so forth. We have Greta Garbo as The Dancer (her real name is kinda weird, and she's listed under both titles in the credits), a depressed, eccentric ballerina who wants to be both alone and in love. Joan Crawford is Flaemmchen, a stenographer for wealthy business man Preysing (Wallace Beery). Lionel Barrymore is Otto Kringelein, a dying man who is having his last hurrah with his life savings, and John Barrymore is The Baron, a down on his luck nobleman who must resort to some drastic measures to pay off his debts. The "main" plot (if there really is one) is the emerging love triangle between both The Baron, The Dancer, and Flaemmchen.

The acting for the most part, is pretty good. Joan Crawford is actually really likable and natural here, which serves as an odd counterpoint for Greta Garbo's performance. Now, I'm not bashing a legend here, but her performance is just so odd, in a sense. She successfully conveys the necessary emotion, so it's not a bad performance, just an odd one. She does a lot of grabbing her hair and wrinkling up her face and acting pretty tired most of the film. Granted, she's a suicidal ballerina, so that's a license to be out there. John Barrymore is charming and romantic, and it's very understandable why the two women would fall for him. Wallace Beery is essentially a brute, which is exactly what he's supposed to be, and Lionel Barrymore is so tragic and heartbreaking as someone who has been downtrodden their entire life only to still be treated poorly on his final stab at life.

The film is a great melodrama (it won Best Picture), well-made with wonderful sets and costumes, and as I mentioned, the acting is on a high level. It's also surprisingly sad in a lot of ways, but everything works out in a way that makes sense.

It's pretty easy to recommend this movie, especially given its classic status. Plus, it's got a great cast, and could be a great entry-level film into getting into Greta Garbos filmography, or Joan Crawford, or either of the Barrymores. So, watch it, it's a good little film.