Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)

Who's in it?: Danny Kaye (Up in Arms, Wonder Man, White Christmas), Virginia Mayo (The Princess and the Pirate, Wonder Man), Vera-Ellen (Wonder Man, White Christmas), and Steve Cochran (Wonder Man)

What's it about?: A milkman (Kaye) accidentally knocks out a professional boxer (Cochran) and is pressured by the fighter's manager into becoming a boxer himself.

How is it?: Easily my favorite of the three early Danny Kaye movies we've seen so far this year. In addition to Cochran, Vera-Ellen and Virginia Mayo are also both back from Wonder Man, playing Kaye's sister and girlfriend respectively. The movie's as funny as the previous two, but the music is better with even more focus on Vera-Ellen's amazing dancing.

There's also a nice character arc for Kaye's milkman and Cochran reminds me of Bobby Cannavale in all the best ways. And there's a great payoff gag at the end of the movie that made me want to rewatch the whole thing again right then.

Rating: Four out of five pugilistic pasteurized-product peddlers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Great Expectations (1998)

Who's in it?: Ethan Hawke (In a Valley of Violence, The Magnificent Seven, The Kid), Gwyneth Paltrow (Se7en, Emma, Iron Man), Anne Bancroft (Treasure of the Golden Condor, The Graduate, Honeymoon in Vegas), Robert De Niro (The Untouchables, Midnight Run, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), Chris Cooper (Lonesome Dove, The Bourne Identity, The Muppets), and Hank Azaria (The SimpsonsFriendsMystery Men)

What's it about?: An adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel about the life of an orphan, but set in contemporary times.

How is it?: Emmanuel Lubezki's photography is a highlight as usual. He's won enough Oscars to make that an understatement, but Alfonso Cuarón (who directed this, which is why I'm watching it again) was an early collaborator with Lubezki. In Great Expectations, Cuarón brilliantly communicates the sensuality of Finn (Pip in the book) and Estella's relationship through camera placement, focus, scene blocking, and pretty much every other tool in his kit except dialogue and gratuitous nudity, which are what less talented directors have to rely on.

What keeps it from being a favorite film of mine is the story itself. I've never read Dickens' novel, so I don't know who to blame, but I get tired of Dinsmoor and Estella's shenanigans way before Finn does, meaning that I also get impatient with his continued submission to their cruelty. Cuarón is so good at including me in Estella's seduction of Finn that I feel why it would be tough for Finn to move on, but I really want him to and though SPOILER his patience ultimately pays off, I'm not satisfied that the reward is worth the lifetime of suffering.

I could be thinking about it wrong by phrasing it in terms of reward for Finn, but Estella isn't a complete enough character for me to see her point of view clearly. There's a great scene where she talks about Dinsmoor's training and what that's done to her, but it's not enough. I want more of that.

Rating: Three out of five seductive socialites.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Star Is Born (1937)

Who's in it?: Janet Gaynor (a prolific actor in the silent and early sound eras, but this was my first film of hers), Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and Andy Devine (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Disney's Robin Hood)

What's it about?: The career of a young actress (Gaynor) begins to take off just as the career of her self-destructive husband (March) spirals out of control.

How is it?: The existence of the 2018 version made we want to finally go back and see the versions that came before it, so this'll be a mini-project for 2019. I haven't seen the 2018 one yet either, so Diane and I are tackling these in chronological order.

I see why it's been remade so many times. It's a heartbreaking story of self-destruction, but also sacrifice, which is oddly uplifting. I have to spoil something here to talk about it, but it's an 80-year-old movie that's been remade at least three times, so it's probably not much of a spoiler. Still, if that bothers you, quit reading now.

So March's character Norman can't escape his spiral and realizes that he's hurting his wife Vicki. He's hurting her emotionally of course, but more importantly (to him) he's hurting her career and her dreams of stardom. She is absolutely willing to give those things up to help him fight his demons, but he can't accept that from her. He kills himself by swimming into the ocean to drown.

From his point of view it's a selfless act, though I'd call it misguided and more destructive than anything else he's done in the film so far. It's not a situation with a clear answer though, so I appreciate the opportunity for discussion. What bothers me about it is that I wish the sacrifice was in service to something greater than Hollywood dreams. The whole film is very much Hollywood in love with itself, including pretentious opening and closing shots of the script.

Norman's heart is good though and I do love how Vicki reacts to his death. That feels very real to me. I'm eager to see the story reinterpreted.

Rating: Three out of five pessimistic performers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thundarr Road | Fortress of Fear

Still in Los Angeles, Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla encounter slaves that need freeing from possibly the most powerful wizard our heroes have encountered yet. Celebrate the freedom in this freedom-packed episode of freedom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Widow

Who's in it?: Kate Beckinsale (Much Ado About Nothing, Cold Comfort Farm, the Underworld movies), Alex Kingston (River Song on Doctor Who), and Charles Dance (The Golden ChildAlien³Game of Thrones).

What's it about?: A woman (Beckinsale) goes looking for her supposedly dead husband when she thinks she spots him on a TV news report.

How is it?: It's not going to be for everyone, but I really really enjoyed The Widow. I recommended it to a friend who's a big Alex Kingston fan, but he couldn't get through it. It stuck with me though and I'm currently rewatching it with Diane.

The mysteries (there are many) unfold slowly. There are multiple plot lines that eventually converge, but the mini-series takes its time revealing how they're connected. It's non-linear with tons of flashbacks that sometimes uncover aspects of the story that you didn't even know were mysteries. For me, that means that it gets increasingly richer and deeper as it goes, but it could be frustrating for some. And then there are some of the mysteries whose revelations are fairly mundane. If you're looking for Lost or 24-like twists, you'll be disappointed. The Widow is exciting, but it's also very grounded and real.

The two things I liked best about it - no, three things if I count just spending time with Beckinsale and Dance (who plays an ally of Beckinsale helping with her investigation) - are the setting and one of the big themes. The series is mostly set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is part of the world I knew very little about. I feel like I know it better now though (it reminds me a lot of Haiti, which I've visited) and that's a very cool aspect of the show. I also like that it shows multiple sides of living in the DRC, both positive and negative.

Even better than that, I love the relentlessness of Beckinsale's character. She constantly makes choices where the potential consequences seem so much bigger than her ability to handle them. And while I don't exactly worry for her (she's the star of the thing after all) the tone is so real that I constantly wonder how she's going to make it through whatever situation she's about to rush into. Her perseverance is head-scratching at first, but it quickly moves to admirable and finally becomes the whole point of the show, which contrasts her with weaker-willed characters. What I thought was just a cool way of driving action becomes a remarkable, provocative challenge to face trials and struggles in my own life with courage and determination, as opposed to avoiding them or ignoring them until they solve themselves.

Rating: Four out of five single-minded spouses.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Filthy Horrors | Ghost Stories

Darla, Jess, and I eat at a haunted restaurant then talk about three of our favorite ghost movies: Poltergeist (1982), The Orphanage (2007), and The Woman in Black (2012).


Friday, March 15, 2019

Dragonfly Ripple | Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

David and I finish our MCU rewatch (before watching the brand new Captain Marvel, anyway) with a discussion of what Ant-Man and the Wasp adds to the series.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Buffalo Boys (2018)

Pax and I talk about the Indonesian Western Buffalo Boys by director Mike Wiluan. Also, Pax reads more Hex (guest-starring Batman!?) and I watch Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok in The White Buffalo.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Dragonfly Ripple | Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

David and I walk through the Infinity War scene by scene, reliving the adventure and speculating about what's to come.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | Live-Action Disney Remakes

Disney loves making live-action versions of its cartoon library, but how many of them are actually good? Geek Kay and Christian Nielsen join me to talk about the phenomenon and also figure out how we'd approach remaking Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Hercules, The Three Caballeros, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Dragonfly Ripple | Black Panther (2018)

David and I spend some extra time on Black Panther, going through the film scene by scene; talking about our favorite parts as well as a couple of things we (well, I, really) didn't like.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The ABC Murders (2018)

Who's in it?: John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly, The Man in the Iron Mask, Jonah Hex), Rupert Grint (the Harry Potter movies), and Shirley Henderson (Rob RoyHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

What's it about?: A serial killer taunts aging Hercule Poirot into coming out of retirement and braving nationalistic bigotry to solve murders in post-WWI England.

How is it?: It's a great mystery, because c'mon, Agatha Christie. But Malkovich is sadly not a good Poirot. I've been reading the first couple of Poirot novels since re-falling in love with the character thanks to Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express. So I've got a definite vision of who Poirot is and what he looks and acts like. Malkovich isn't him. His mustache is absolutely mundane and he doesn't fuss over his appearance at all. His beard lacks symmetry, which wouldn't be a problem for any other character, but it's unimaginable for Poirot.

And then there's the detective's grumpy, depressed personality. That's a script problem, but still an issue. The adaptation is eager to be relevant and includes a subplot about English nationalism and a distrust of foreigners. Poirot has always been an outsider to English society, but the literary version handles that status with humor, grace, and a great deal of pride. Malkovich's Poirot has been worn down by it.

That's not the only change in the character, either. The mini-series questions the traditional narrative that Poirot was a Belgian police officer before coming to England to do private detective work. It builds a new, cynical backstory for the character that I found unnecessary. And that's the heart of my problem with The ABC Murders. Poirot is shoved sideways into an adaptation that's desperate to be relevant and unashamed about changing the character to support the themes. In my opinion, if you have an established character who's at odds with the theme of your story, it's the theme that needs reworking, not the character.

Bonus points for Rupert Grint as the lead police detective though. I always enjoy seeing him.

Rating: Three out of five little grey cells.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

A Little Princess (1995)

Who's in it?: Liesel Matthews (Air Force One), Eleanor Bron (Help!, Absolutely Fabulous), and Liam Cunningham (First Knight)

What's it about?: A young English girl named Sara (Matthews) enters an American boarding school when her father (Cunningham) goes to war. But her positive outlook is challenged when her dad is reported dead, his finances frozen, and the school's sour headmistress (Bron) changes Sara's status from privileged student to persecuted servant.

How is it?: This was my second time seeing this version of A Little Princess (there's a 1939 adaptation starring Shirley Temple that's also quite good). I watched it back in the day mostly because it was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, but also because it's based on a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of the enjoyable gothic novel for children, The Secret Garden.

A Little Princess is absolutely lovely and I fell for it just as hard the second time. Sara is an amazing character who proves that her optimism and kindness are not tied to her circumstances. Some horrible things happen to her, but she's a source of light and warmth to everyone she meets. Especially other girls in the school who are struggling. Sara insists that all girls are princesses, which sounds trite and naive until it becomes clear that what she actually means is that all girls have value, even the ones causing her to suffer. It's a moving example of loving one's enemies and as soon as I finished it, I contacted my local bookstore to order a copy of the novel.

Rating: Five out of five hardy heroines.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Mystery Movie Night | The Hustler (1961), Caddyshack (1980), and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

David leads Erik, Evan, Dave, and I in a discussion of billiards, Baby Ruths, and Blockbuster Video.

00:01:34 - Review of The Hustler

00:13:53 - Review of Caddyshack

00:32:41 - Review of The Lost World: Jurassic Park

00:57:15 - Guessing the Connection


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