Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Touch of Venus (1948)

Two stars. If a friend really wants to watch it with me, I would probably be willing to watch it again, but I will need to be doing something else while I watch!

I’ve been wanting to re-watch Mannequin (very much NOT a classic movie, as it stars Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, James Spader, and lots of 80s music) for a long time now, so when my dad told me about One Touch of Venus I was really excited. A statue of Venus comes to life in a department store and falls in love with a lowly window dresser (who I will be calling "doofy guy"). When I read on the box that it is a musical romantic comedy, I was even more excited. I could only imagine the kinds of songs they would sing together.

It turns out the movie is only loosely a musical. Venus sings "Speak Low" a few times to woo her reluctant doofy guy and to call him back to her. The song also works well for a parallel plot involving doofy guy's fiance and doofy guy's best friend. There is a really silly number about finding the right man and then one more entirely forgettable song later on. So forgettable I can't even remember where it fell. Just that there were three songs.

I also wasn't sure if Venus was really in love with doofy guy, or if she just thought he would make a good pet with all of his "Golly you’re beautiful" comments. At one point, while trying to make Venus feel tired, he almost managed to hypnotize himself. Venus wasn't really any less doofy than her guy, though, so maybe it was a good match.

The high points:

*Secretary to the head of the department store, Molly, played by Eve Arden... the only character I could stand... although she was forced to change her ways to get her guy

*the fact that there was a model home in the department store, and that part of the story took place there... this is why I love IKEA...model rooms are fun...dollhouses for grownups

*Venus's very original way to help doofy guy evade arrest... She used her magic to turn the arrest warrant into a string of paper dolls. Then, when the cops still seemed to want to arrest her doofy guy, she used more magic to make one of the cops act like an owl.

*this quote about a fiance who can't wait to pick a wedding date: "Why, even when we have dinner together, the only thing she has is rice."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Married a Witch (1942)

"Thou has denounced me as a witch, and for that thou will be accursed. Thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children." How could you not watch a movie that has this dialogue near the beginning? Apparently Thorne Smith, the creator of the great Cary Grant ghost movie Topper, had an unfinished novel that some lovely people turned into this movie...

I am giving this four stars, and I would definitely watch it again. It was hilarious.

Basically Veronica Lake's character Jennifer is a bad witch (because witches are bad) who gets burned at the stake in "Puritan times." Before she is burned, she curses the man who deounced her so that he and all his male descendents will marry the wrong woman and be miserable in love. Did I mention that in Puritan times we get to see people wearing pilgrim hats? While they say "thou?" Jennifer's soul, along with her crafty and somewhat drunken warlock father's, is trapped in a tree planted over the burning spot. When the tree is struck by lightning in the present day, she and her father are released. Here begins the similarities with Topper... Jennifer and her father appear as witch smoke until they are able to find new bodies for themselves. It is pretty entertaining to watch the little puffs of smoke float around talking to each other, especially when they keep using words like "thou" and "thy." One of the best moments is when the smoke puffs ride a broomstick together. The special effects continue throughout the movie. As soon as Jennifer has a body, she immediately sets out to torture the soon-to-be-married and soon-to-be-elected-governor Wallace Wooley, male descendent of her denouncer. She decides that of course the best way to torture him is to get him to fall in love with her. "True suffereing cometh."

Jennifer gets Wally Wooley to rescue her naked from the depths of the burning "Pilgrim Hotel," and the plot begins to twist and turn. There are so many fun moments. I won't ruin them. Watch this movie!!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help! (1965)

Hey Bee-attle.

I would like to give it fewer than four stars, but it is hard to give the Beatles fewer than four stars. Hmmm. The music deserves more than four stars... "Help," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "I Need You," "You're Going to Lose That Girl"...

I watched Help! with my dad, because he's been waiting anxiously for the DVD to be released. I hope he doesn't mind that I didn't love it. Maybe loving this movie is dependent on mood. I know I liked it a lot more the first time I saw it, sometime during high school, when Amy and I decided to have a movie day. I remember sitting on the floor of my parents' room eating popcorn, watching too many movies, and laughing a lot at this one. I didn't laugh as much this time.

Bascially Ringo has ended up wearing an important ring that marks him as the next sacrifice victim of an "Eastern" cult. The cult chases him. Mad scientists hungry for the power of the ring chase him. The London police try to help. The Beatles come up with crafty plans. Hilarity ensues.

I did learn a bit about my dad's catch phrases. A woman from the cult decides that she likes the Beatles and wants to help protect Ringo. When she first reveals herself to the Beatles, after the cult members have used the hand dryers in the bathroom to try to vacuum the ring off of Ringo's finger, along with random items of clothing and such, she announces, "I am not what I seem!" Apparently my dad uses this phrase during meetings at work. And he tells me that "I can say no more" is a good way to end a meeting. Another line from the female cult member.

Watching Help! was a little like watching a Monty Python/Austin Powers movie with great music. It is fun to watch the Beatles act really silly. I will probably see it again someday hoping to laugh more.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spellbound (1945)

Four stars for the movie and 13 stars for Gregory Peck's face in this movie

I think that this is a great mystery, and I do not want to give away anything that would ruin the suspense, so I'm not going to give very much of a plot summary. When the movie begins, Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at Green Manor. We first meet her while she's working with a patient who declares, "I hate men! I loathe them! If one of them so much as touches me, I want to sink my teeth into his hand and bite him!" Be ready for more quotes, because I loved the dialogue in this movie!

Dr. Petersen is a calm and brilliant thinker, but her smarmy colleague tells her that her "lack of human and emotional experience" is bad for her as a doctor. Touching her is "rather like embracing a textbook...[although she's] a sweet, adorable, and pulsing woman underneath." This all changes, though, when Gregory Peck's character arrives to take over as the new head of the facility, and of course Dr. Petersen falls in love...

I loved the movie, but it definitely had some interesting things to say about women (even beyond the above quotes!):
"The poor girl's withering away for science."
"Do not complete the sentence with the usual female contradictions."
"woman doublespeak"...
"We both know that a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of intellect."

I can forgive the above for the exciting plot and Gregory Peck's face. Also for...
Tips and Lessons learned:
*Next time an unwanted guy gets too close: "Would you mind not sitting in my lap?"
*Next time a friend is catastrophizing or I need to talk myself out of catastrophizing: "That's a delusion you've acquired out of illness."
*Next time I am trying to figure anything out: Remember every detail of my dreams, even if they are not Salvador Dali dream sequences like the one in the movie.
*Next time I am trying to hide from someone: Put on my glasses! Dr. Petersen is able to hide just like Clark Kent!
*Next time I am tempted to fall in love with my psychoanalyst: Do not! It gets messy!

And I must mention that 1945 Gregory Peck and I would be perfect for each other. When Dr. Petersen tells him where she's hoping to put a pool on the Green Manor grounds, he very seriously tells her, "I'm a great believer in swimming pools." I love swimming pools.

And because I love quotes, just a few more:

"There's nothing nicer than a new marriage. No psychosis yet... I wish you to have babies and not phobias."

"Will you love me just as much when I'm normal?"
"Oh, I'll be insane about you!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

Three stars...will have to watch again to figure out what was going on!

I have definitely learned my lesson that it is not a good idea to do other things while watching a Thin Man movie. Everyone talks too much and too quickly, and there are just too many characters to keep track of. So, unfortunately, I got a little confused until I finally gave up on the birthday present I was making for my friend's son.

Things I did notice:

Nora's hats! Despite the fact that everyone at the wrestling match Nick and Nora attended laughed and told Nora her hat was screwy, I love her hats. She wears so many great ones in this movie.

Fast motion effects! Was fast motion used in all the movies to try to make Asta's movements funnier? The culmination of the fast motion use was when poor Asta got stuck in a revolving door and kept going around and around really really quickly.

Toddler leashes! It is apparently not a new thing to parade your toddler around on a leash. The movie begins with Nick leading Nick Jr. leading Asta through the park.

A very young Donna Reed!

I did answer some of my questions from the previous Thin Man, too. Nick Jr. has not started to drink yet. In fact, he may be a good influence on his dad. "Drink milk!" he declares. Even though Nick protests, "But I can't drink milk now. I'm a big boy. I wear long pants and go out with girls," Nora makes him obey his son so that they can drink milk together. And yes, Nick does always seem to work by gathering up all the suspects and waiting for someone to slip up.

I must not do other things while watching Thin Man movies.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lover Come Back (1961)

Doris Day and Rock Hudson? Sign me up! Advertising agencies again...almost as much fun as the newspaper business.
I'm about 40 minutes in when I know for certain this was the inspiration for Down with Love - which was awesome. I just hope Doris doesn't get duped.
Three stars - one whole star for the hats!

Oh the hats! I wish I could show you a picture of each and every one! But is there ONE good picture of the hats on the internet? No there is not!

Tony Randall is awesome as Rock's bumbling boss and Ann B. Davis (Alice from the Brady Bunch) as Doris' secretary.

Renee Zellweger did an admirable imitation of Doris Day in Down with Love.
In Down with Love the two main characters are engaged in a public fight over women's liberation while at the same time the guy ends up wooing the girl under an assumed identity to get back at her.

In Lover Come Back they are basically just fighting over clients although there is a loud subtext about women who don't want to put out and men who sleep around.
I can't give this four stars because the ending is just too weird and unsatisfying. I won't give it away because you already KNOW it's a "happy" ending so the only fun part is how do they get together in the end and I can't deprive you of the enjoyment of discovering that, however limited that enjoyment might be.

Only if you've seen the weird Sandra Dee movie "Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding" will you feel that the ending is vaguely familiar. Maybe they hired the same screenwriter to finish both scripts. Or maybe they just lost the last five pages and didn't feel like bothering with a re-write.

Regardless, enjoy the hats, enjoy the bizarre insight into product development, but don't hold your breath for the ending.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Place in the Sun (1951)

We flipped to this after Heroes didn't was already about halfway through. Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor - famous for being young, beautiful, famous and...just friends.

Rose McGowen was guest programming with Robert Osbourne (and looking great doing so). Robert talked about how there is chemistry between Taylor and Clift here but not in their later films together - he thought because later they were too close as friends to have chemistry.

Hmm, Robert, I don't know, do you think that could be because Clift was showing the unabashed admiration, flattery and tender attention that only a gay man (not risking any real rejection) can lavish on a woman? And, not knowing he was gay (yet), Taylor was very naturally responding warmly to this attention and showing him that sensual and openly affectionate side that unreserved adoration from a beautiful man can bring out in a woman? Making beautiful screen chemistry. And they do have chemistry but - it's all in Taylor's eyes! She does have beautiful eyes.

And legs.

That must have been hard for Liz - being best buddies with the most beautiful young gay man in the world. I guess River Phoenix was my generation's Montgomery Clift. Why is it that famous young lesbians run around Hollywood racking up DUIs and indulging in dangerous fashion combinations while famous young gay boys run around Hollywood racking up scandals and indulging in dangerous drug combinations?

I guess it's still harder to be a macho gay man that it is to be a come-hither lesbian. Or you could be a macho-lesbian a la Jodie Foster...but I digress.

The movie's about a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with a girl from the right side of the tracks but - oops - he's knocked up his old girlfriend already. So he 'finds a way to get rid of her' as Tivo euphemistically puts it.

This movie has a doomed, guilty mood to it - a real melancholy, dark feel.

You can see how Montgomery Clift fed this role deeply from his own life - his passion and his guilt all mixed up to make a kind of exquisite private torture for him. I wonder if having a tragic life counts as acting? Anyhow. Like James Dean and Brando I'm sure he's really good and everything, but I just can't pretend I enjoy watching his performance. He's tortured, we get it, can we cut to the chase?

Coming in halfway through, we weren't sure if he was really guilty or just guilty of wanting her dead.

Do you think she thinks he's innocent? I asked Kim.
Yeah, she said.
Do you think he is innocent, I asked.
I don't know, Kim said, I'm kind of iffy.
We decided we thought he was guilty.

Two stars, for Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor's legs. Will not watch again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I read that Katherine Hepburn was meant to have been considered for the part of Scarlett O'Hara. But the studio picked Vivian Leigh instead. And a good thing, too. Katherine's inherent Yankee-ness isn't the only reason that she wasn't right for that part...Hepburn was never petulant. You could see in Bringing Up Baby that some of the lines might have been meant for that...and in Pat and Mike she's supposed to be nervous and rattled by her fiance. Katherine just never seems really helpless, and as much as Scarlett is helpless at times - and petulant - Blanche Dubois is even more so.

I first saw this movie in high school when I was reading Tennessee Williams plays for acting class, and I fell in love. I walked around talking in a soft little southern accent for months afterwards - albeit under my breath so no-one could hear me. There is just something about her character that is captivating. She is useless, vain, selfish, frail and, of course, increasingly crazy as the movie progresses. But you do get the sense that some great wrong was done to her. Some wrong that she couldn't help and that she doesn't know how to incorporate into her view of the world.

She's like a girl who was raised to think the world was all puppies and lollipops and then had a puppy die in her hands, choking on a lollipop. (hm, not my best metaphor, maybe).

Anyhow, you just want her to be happy and get out of Stella's hair, really. Because as much as you hate Stanley, you kind of feel for Stella - it's kind of like Stella and Stanley are Rocky and Adrian, if Rocky hadn't won the fight with Apollo Creed.

Stanley's not a bad guy, or so you think. Then he goes and forcefully messes up Blanche's chance at happiness - or at least a version of happiness.

That is one thing about TW's plays (and the movies made from them): they are beautifully sad portraits of beautifully tragic characters, but there is the sense that no-one is really happy or ever will be. Which I guess makes sense because if you were a gay kid growing up in the south there really was no chance that you were going to be very happy, was there? (I mean, apparently he had a partner and they were pretty happy but at the same time, he died choking to death on a bottle cap, drunk, so that's not a very happy picture, is it?).

So when Blanche loses her shot at semi-happiness, and Stella begins to descend into the third circle of hell that is a fight between your sister and your really start to hate Stanley. And of course that only makes the fragile Blanche more sympathetic, by comparison.

Like all TW plays, too, in this one there is a veiled sexual encounter that colors the whole play darkly.

There is no other movie that I would describe as "disturbing" "tragic" and yet "wonderful".

Four stars. Nevertheless, won't watch again for a while. It is disturbing and not something that you shake for a few days after watching it.

PS - I have not praised Marlon Brando here because I've simply never found his character that fascinating. He plays Stanley well, but Stanley is like lust and fate and resentment all rolled into one. Sure, Brando is great, but his character existed for me before I ever saw his portrayal.
Blanche was the character that haunted me, the character who was unique: she was a manipulative victim. Everything bad you could say about her was true: snobbish, self-absorbed, deluded, vain, over-sensitive - but she was still somehow precious and beautiful and innocent.
In that way she was something like Scarlett O'Hara if she hadn't been so resilient. It made an interesting character, and one that you can't shake after the movie ends. I'm quite sure Brando is an absurdly good actor and someday if I ever watch another movie with him in it I'll tell you all about it. But I think it's silly to put him on the cover of the DVD. It's not his movie.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gone with the Wind (1939)

I used to think that I hated Scarlett O'Hara. And if I watch the movie the whole way through, I always do. It is really hard not to hate someone who is selfish and who keeps making the sames mistakes over and over again. From an adorable spoiled brat, we watch her grow into a woman without losing her selfish, vain, stubborn and manipulative traits. In some ways, it's like watching a 19th-century Paris Hilton for four long hours.

But the truth is that I don't hate Scarlett. You can't completely hate her. I love the bit where they escape the fires of Atlanta - you know...

...the part where she is left by her protector and beau, Rhett, to bring her sick cousin and her cousin's newborn baby back home...only to arrive home and discover that her mother has died, her father has gone crazy, there is no food and no money and the Yankees have incinerated their barn? I love that part. Especially where she gags on the dirty radish, that's great stuff - that's the Simple Life to the power of one hundred.

So this time we started the movie there (no matter how you slice it, the damn movie is too long! I see nothing wrong with skipping the beginning once in a while.) - I can really almost like Scarlett from there until she marries Frank Kennedy. Then you see by the look on Mammy's face that even she is horrified at the depths of Scarlett's selfishness.

When she said "if I have to steal, cheat, lie, etc I'll never go hungry again" you didn't think she meant she'd be lying in order to steal her sister's fiance...that's low!

But it's after she gets Frank killed and marries Rhett and the baby is born (and named >gag< Bonnie Blue Butler *shudder*) - that's when I switch it off. Because that's when it's clear that even motherhood won't bring out one unselfish feeling in her. While Rhett dotes on his daughter, Scarlett stops brushing her hair long enough to scold him: "Great balls of fire! I had the baby, didn't I?"

Maybe if she'd ended up with Ashley in an alternate universe that would have brought out unselfishness in her? As I was typing this, Rhett himself answered me.

Rhett: I feel sorry for you.
Scarlett: Sorry for me?
Rhett: Yes, sorry for you, because you're throwing away happiness with both hands and reaching out for something with both hands that'll never make you happy.
If you were free and Miss Mellie were dead and you had your precious honorable Ashley you think you'd be happy with him? You'd never know him, never even understand his mind, any more than you understand anything, except money.

Oh, angry Rhett Butler, you are so fine! Rhett's really like a romance novel hero come to life and walking around - he totally takes Scarlett into his arms and does the "you've never really been kissed before now" kiss. You know, this one:

And that is why, I suppose, this movie beats out every other movie, to be the people's choice for best movie ever. When you consider all the movies of all time that it has to beat out, that's pretty impressive. The best movie of all time is a mushy maudlin one...well maybe that's why Titanic is so popular. Schmaltz, Schmaltz, Schmaltz. We admit to loving it!

I do prefer Casablanca, though, because the characters are noble and the sad ending is made good by the fact that the characters find redemption in their love for each other. Rick gets to know that Ilsa loves him enough to leave Victor, to whom she is unfailingly loyal, Ilsa gets to make a sacrifice again that now feels great enough to make her feel almost worthy of her noble husband, and we get to see Rick and Ilsa have their hungry, stolen kisses on the way. Oh, and the Nazis get it in the end.

I guess that's another reason that it's easier for me to love Casablanca than GWTW...I'm a Yankee and those sentimental moments of slavery always tick me off. I know the Yankees were not princes, so the vilification of Yankees doesn't bug me too much - but the portrayal of the beautiful old South as nothing but bucolic happiness is a little hard to swallow. Sure, sure, Ashley would have freed the slaves as soon as his old man died...but what about the rest of them? What about slaves that weren't as happy as Mammy and Prissy (Prissy!) and Pork (Pork!). It's just hard to watch.

Almost equally unsavory is Scarlett's disdain for "white trash" and the noble prostitute, Belle, who saves Ashley's life later on, in spite of Scarlett. It is just easy to hate her, and I almost believed I did...but despite it all I do like her. She's just so spunky - I mean: she shoots a marauding Yankee in the face point blank, she forces her younger sisters into hard labor, she says things like "I can shoot straight, as long as I don't have to shoot very far"! In 1868, that would have been downright radical.

Yes, she is a paradox, Scarlett O'Hara - a heroine we love to hate. Carry on, Paris Hilton of the old south, carry on.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Three stars for the whole movie. Four stars for the first three hours and two minutes of it. I think I would end the movie with Mammy showing off her red petticoat and Mellie telling Rhett he can go in and see the baby...the END.