Monday, July 24, 2017

7 Days in May | Planet of the Apes and Noir Galore

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Wanted to rewatch this and Dawn before seeing War. I'm still amazed by how much this works. Which is to say that it works completely and wonderfully, fully connecting me to its characters regardless of species. And what a great, cathartic finale as everyone gets their comeuppance. In the best Planet of the Apes movies, I should always feel conflicted about where my loyalties are and this is probably the best at accomplishing that in the history of these movies.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I still care about the humans in Dawn - especially Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, and Kodi Smit-McPhee - but they're ultimately MacGuffins in the movie's real conflict between Caesar and Koba. It's a brilliant clash of ideologies and what I love most about this trilogy is the battle between compassion and hate. Which leads directly to the third film...

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In Dawn, the compassion-hate conflict is between Caesar and Koba, but in War it's within Caesar himself. His conflict with the human Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has led Caesar down a dark path and threatens the beliefs that he holds most dear. War handles this in a beautiful, emotional way and it's a great conclusion to what's easily my favorite science fiction trilogy of all time (at least until the current Star Wars trilogy is done... fingers crossed).

Grease (1978)

Rewatching Back to the Future for an upcoming Mystery Movie Night got me in the mood for something else from the '50s. And this has been on the list for a while since a couple of shots from it are in that great 100 Movies Dance Scenes Mashup video that my family and I can't stop watching.

And it really is all about the music in this one. The story is mostly bunk and I don't like Danny, Sandy, or really any of their friends except Frenchie. The ending is stupid. But dang those are some great songs and I always forget how awesome Olivia Newton-John's voice is.

The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)

Trying to clear out some room on my TiVo. I recorded this on a lark, because there's a John Denver song with the same title and I'm nostalgic for John Denver. That's a dumb reason to watch a movie, but I also like Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon, so what the heck.

I love this movie so much. Oberon plays a wealthy, young woman named Mary Smith whose widowed father is trying to get a Presidential nomination. Mary's not especially troublesome, but she's under especially tight scrutiny, so her dad sends her to the family's house in West Palm Beach to get her away from the New York paparazzi. There she cute-meets a rodeo cowboy named Stretch (Cooper), but she's pretending to be a lady's maid at the time and... well, you've seen a romantic comedy before, so you know how that goes.

There are some modern romcom tropes, but I found that refreshing in a '30s film. And I love that the story is told from Mary's point of view with Stretch being the love interest. The movie also has some nice things to say about the value of people, with both Mary and Stretch needing to adjust their ideas about what kind of people they're interested in.

Five Came Back (1939)

This one popped on my radar because a bunch of people crash in a jungle. And it's very early Lucille Ball and I'm always interested in her serious roles.

I love this one, too. It's sort of a proto-Lost with a varied group of passengers on a downed plane trying to survive until they can rescue themselves. There are three airline personnel, a young couple in love, an elderly couple in grumpiness, a bounty hunter (John Carradine) and his prisoner, a man escorting a young boy for mysterious reasons, and Lucille Ball's character: a beautiful, but ostracized woman.

What's great is that every one of these characters finds themselves challenged and changed by the ordeal in the jungle. Some for the better, and some not so much. As the title spoils, not all of them make it out, but that's a fascinating and touching story, too.

It was remade in 1956 as Back from Eternity with Anita Ekberg and Rod Steiger, so that also just went on my list.

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

I'm a huge fan of The Big Sleep, both the Raymond Chandler novel and the 1946 movie based on it. But I'm enough of a fan of the movie that I haven't been that interested in seeing other actors in the role of Philip Marlowe.

And here's another thing: my love of the novel is all about the mood and the dialogue. Chandler's an awesome writer, but - at least in The Big Sleep - he's not an awesome mystery writer. There are huge dangling plot threads and red herrings that don't make sense. Maybe he fixed that in subsequent books, but I haven't read them yet to find out. If Murder, My Sweet (based on Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely) is faithful to its novel, though - and I understand that it is - I still have concerns. For most of its run time, the story spins around without going anywhere. It relies on all the things I like about Chandler (mood, dialogue, and Marlowe himself) to keep me going, but the central mystery is kind of dull.

Phantom Lady (1944)

After enjoying The Web, I started looking for other Ella Raines movies to watch and this is a big one. She plays another secretary, but this time her boss is the one who's in trouble for murder, not the one trying to cover it up. And she's great in it, but neither her boss nor the story itself deserve her. The villain is easy to deduce as soon as the character is mentioned, but then the movie still confirms it way too early. The villain's motivation is super flimsy, too, and the scheme to cover their tracks is even shakier. This is a classic only because of Raines herself and an unforgettable scene with a ridiculously lewd drum solo.

Frontier Gal (1945)

Before she was Lily Munster, Yvonne De Carlo had a prolific film career. She made a lot of Westerns, so I wanted to check some of them out. I shouldn't have started with Frontier Gal, though, because hoo boy. Her character's unlikability in this movie is only surpassed by her co-star's.

Rod Cameron plays an outlaw who visits a saloon run by De Carlo. He takes a liking to her, but she insults him, so he kisses her against her will. She slaps him, so he kisses her again. She slaps him again, so he kisses her again. Repeat several times until she falls in love. And that sets the tone for the entire movie, which might as well have been called No Means Yes.

I'll watch more De Carlo Westerns, but yikes... this one.

Spellbound (1945)

One of my favorite Hitchcock films, partly because I love its two leads, but it's also a great story that keeps turning into something new. Showed it to David this viewing and he wasn't that interested to begin with. I asked him to give it 15 minutes and then decide if he wanted to keep going. We kept going.

That awesome dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali is a highlight, but it's the central mystery and the plot twists (and Bergman and Peck) that make Spellbound so rewatchable.

Shock (1946)

Phantom Lady wasn't the only movie I watched this week inspired by The Web. I wanted to see some more Vincent Price noir, too, so that's where Shock comes in. Price plays an adulterous psychologist who accidentally kills his wife. Unfortunately, he's seen by a woman (Anabel Shaw) who's already under a lot of mental stress. Watching the murder sends her into a catatonic state. When Price is called in to minister to her, he discovers that she's a witness to his crime. Under pressure from his girlfriend, he realizes that if Shaw never recovers, he's off the hook.

It's not my favorite kind of Price role. He's still great, but he's too much a victim of circumstance and his girlfriend to thoroughly relish his performance. Give me wicked and conniving - or at least charmingly caddish - any day.

Song of the Week: "Seagulls! (Stop It Now)" by Bad Lip Reading

This doesn't just crack me up; it gets stuck in my head for a week and I don't even complain.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

This new Planet of the Apes series caught us all off guard with have consistently good it has been especially in between all the other sci fi franchise reboots around it. Rise works as an origin story despite the odd casting choice of comedy actors in the lead human roles and the rather cookie cutter antagonists. Dawn is easily my favorite with the uneven conflict were Caesar has to deal with descent in his own ranks just as much as the humans are pitted against each other in the end with Jason Clarke having to oppose Gary Oldman's understandably itching trigger finger. Plus apes with guns on horses!

War is proof that these new movies are all inappropriately titled. (Rise should have been Dawn, Dawn ought to be War and War should be Rise)

War focuses on a smaller more intimate conflict between Ceasar and the Colonel. Not a war movie but a prisoner of war movie so it feels more like an extended epilogue than the epic conclusion that they promised in the trailer. Still good and one for the books as an impressive series.

Paxton said...

"I recorded this on a lark, because there's a John Denver song with the same title and I'm nostalgic for John Denver. That's a dumb reason to watch a movie"

I'm glad you called that out, Michael.

I'm glad to hear War is good. I loved the first two and I wanted the third to be a great end cap.

I like Grease the movie, but the soundtrack is several orders of magnitude better than the movie. Danny can be a dick. Rizzo can be a bitch. Connikey is an idiot. Sandy is adorable throughout, if a bit naive but I think that's the point. I mostly like it. I almost exactly feel the same about the sequel.


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