May 31, 2005

First impressions are a killer

I tried rewatching Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events tonight. I got less than five minutes into it and all I could think of was my response from the first time I saw it. So I turned it off.

Edward Gorey meets Tim Burton meets Jim Carrey ... anyone alone I like but together, in this movie ... I don't think so. It seemed too contrived, too calculated and not terribly inspired. Despite having what seemed like a lot of promise.

May 30, 2005

Stinkin' out the joint - The Life of Emile Zola

I've been worried lately that I've been sounding like a shill for movies because I've come across so many that I've liked. And I've been posting about them. And, the truth is, I would rather talk about movies I like than movies I don't like.

So, as I suggest, it worries me that I may come across sometimes as the happy marketing guy who says everything is wonderful.

In other words, I've been looking for a turkey so I could provide some balance. I think I may have found it.

It's The Life of Emile Zola(1936) starring Paul Muni. Despite the DVD packaging, it's not a "powerful film," unless you measure the power of tedium.

The problems with the film are several. For one, it's too anachronistic - meaning, it's too much of a period piece in terms of when it was made (not when it is set) and this means it tries too hard to make it manipulatively moving. It also plays way, way, WAY too fast and loose with the facts (it's supposed to be a biopic), although they do acknowledge this in the opening titles.

Bottom line: it's tedious, it's manipulative in a bad way, and it's just too cornball. This is, at best, a middling B picture. Worth a rental if you're really bored and have no life.

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May 29, 2005

Grant & Dunne - movie stars, not a legal firm

I just posted a review of a 1940 comic gem - My Favorite Wife starring Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Here, they team up after the successful 1937 hit, The Awful Truth. And believe me, they are an absolute pleasure to watch.

Off hand, I can't think of anyone else I enjoyed paired with Grant on screen more than Irene Dunne. They play so well together.

And here, in My Favorite Wife, they have a great story conceit. The two are married. She goes away on a trip and is lost at sea. After seven years, she's declared legally dead. So Grant now goes and remarries. However, on the same day he does, his first wife, Irene Dunne, comes back.

As the expression goes, hijinks ensue.

It's absolutely great.

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May 28, 2005

The Aviator - strange film about a strange man

I found Martin Scorsese's The Aviator an odd film. Not bad, not great - good, but odd.

It's strange in that while it's engaging, it's not emotionally engaging. It keeps you at a distance, sort of like a science experiment. You're curious about it but in a dispassionate kind of way.

Well, you can read more of my musings in my review.

One thing I don't really talk about in it is the performances, which are all good. Scorsese assembled quite an array of today's talent to play yesterday's talent: Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Jude Law as Errol Flynn ... it's quite a list.

By the way, I didn't get far in the special features. I was watching the Biography thing on Howard Hughes and ran out of gas because it was basically a grocery list - Hughes did this, then that, then that ... kinda boring.

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May 26, 2005

Business life - In Good Company

It's been out on DVD for a few weeks now but I didn't get around to seeing In Good Companytill last night.

It's pretty good - better than I thought it might be though perhaps not as funny as some might lead you to believe. It's especially appealing for anyone who has had a taste of corporate life, or the business world generally. It's amusing as it captures pretty accurately what that kind of life is like.

Of course, given the kind of film it is the end veers away from the real world, but that's okay because it is, after all, a nice comedic film. It ain't cinema verite (and doesn't pretend to be).

For those who like Scarlett Johanssen, you'll like her performance here although if you really want to see her in a great perfromance, I'd recommend A Love Song for Bobby Long.

I'll see if I can't toss a review together at some point. This brief note isn't really fair to the film which is considerably more than a comedy of business life. It has a little something to do with youth and age and is quite good in this respect.

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May 23, 2005

So, I watch The Incredibles tonight

I wasn't sure what I would be watching tonight but a brief visit to The Bleat has reminded me I need to re-watch The Incredibles.

First time out, it didn't do much for me. Or so I assume. I don't remember it very well so it seems safe to conclude I was less than overwhelmed (despite the hype). But I also discovered something last night as I rewatched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (another movie that didn't really register one way or another the first time I saw it).

Movies play better on weekends. Probably because we have a few moments to breath and forget about the nonsense that consumes our weekday lives. (And today, in Canada, is Day 3 of a long weekend as we celebrate Queen Victoria, though I don't believe we're suppose to admit to that any more. Still, we call it Victoria Day.)

Good grief ... I can't believe I'm listening to Crystal Gayle singing, Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue. But I am.

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May 22, 2005

Ernst Lubitsch, Carole Lombard and ... Jack Benny?

It struck me as an odd combination but ... what the heck? Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, a director I've always liked, I decided to give the movie To Be Or Not To Be a try.

It was worth it. Despite sagging a bit in the middle, the movie works. Although it just sounds strange to me - Lombard, Benny, Poland, Nazis, romantic comedy ... huh?

Made in 1942, it's Lubitsch's satire of Nazism and he gives it quite a going over. Here's my review of it.

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May 21, 2005

Bobby Long a nice find (Scarlett Johanssen great)

Once again, I picked up a disc without really knowing much about it and certainly not knowing what to expect. And I found I had a thumbs up winner.

A Love Song for Bobby Long is a great movie. The marketing seems to want to make it seem darker than it is. If I had to compare it to something, I'd say it is somewhat similar to The Station Agent. In fact, if you liked that movie I think you would like Bobby Long.

Mind you, it's a drama and definitely has its dark tone. It's like The Station Agent in that it has a small film feel and is character driven. But the characters are wonderful and the performances are great (especially Scarlett Johanssen).

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May 17, 2005

The Americanization of Emily - problems with satire

I watched the second of the three movies I picked up the other day. It was The Americanization of Emily (1964). And while I really wanted to like, and even liked parts of it, and while I really like Julie Andrews and James Garner ... ah, it just didn't fly with me.

There are good parts to the movie but as a whole it doesn't gel.

I wrote a review of it and as I say there, the satire wrestles with the romantic story and between the two they kind of cancel each other out.

As a general rule, I don't like satire. I seldom find it satisfying. If it isn't telling me what I want to hear, it's hopelessly tedious. When it does tell what I want to hear (like this movie, Emily), it tends to be long-winded. I get impatient for an engaging story. And satire doesn't usually deliver in this respect because a good story relies on good characters and satire tends to depend on caricatures.

Anyway ... There are good moments in The Americanization of Emily but not enough to prompt me to give it a whole-hearted endorsement. At best, I'd give it a wishy-washy, "It's okay. You could do worse."

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May 15, 2005

Gunga Din - a better film than most

I seem to be making my way through a fistful of films of the Hollywood action - adventure kind from the late thirties and early forties. Most recently, it was Gunga Din, from 1939, directed by George Stevens. (Here's my review of it.)

Like many of those Errol Flynn movies (see below), Gunga Din is almost a blueprint for a certain type of movie. In this case, the action-adventure buddy movie.

From a modern perspective, the movie has the political sensitivity of a drunken elephant but that's largely a reflection of the time and its attitudes. Still, were I from India this movie would not likely be a big favourite. (By the way, Joan Fontaine is in this film. But don't blink or you'll miss her.)

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May 14, 2005

Three movies, three decades - which to choose!

I got a little sidetracked today and wandered into the DVD area of a certain store and ... Well, darn it if they didn't have a sale and darn it if they didn't have a fistful of discs I'd been wanting to get.

"It's not my fault Mr. Bank Manager. They took advantage of my weakness."

Anyway ... I could have been a lot weaker. As it is, I restricted myself to three movies covering three different decades.

- Gunga Din (1939 - Cary Grant)
- Easter Parade (1948 - Fred Astaire, Judy Garland)
- The Americanization of Emily (1964 - Julie Andrews, James Garner)

The question now is - which one to watch tonight? (I may even watch two - but which ones?) I'm leaning towards Cary. But we'll see.

(By the way, it's fortunate these are available now because a number of the newer films that have been released on DVD recently haven't exactly excited me.)

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Less nerdy than I thought

It's online so it must be true. I'm as scientifically/technologically challenged as I'd supposed:

I am nerdier than 13% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

May 8, 2005

Errol Flynn and The Sea Hawk

On film, Errol Flynn seems to capture all the best aspects of what is sometimes referred to as "a boyish quality." At his best, there is an exuberance and sense of fun that is irresistible.

And that really comes across in The Sea Hawk. So I wrote a review of it.

It's a wonderful movie; it's a kind of template for every other swashbuckling adventure.

In the past, I never really understood why people made a big deal about Errol Flynn. But as his films come out on DVD and I finally see them, I understand it. (Many of these movies I've actually seen before, but when I was very, very young and so I only vaguely recall them.)

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May 1, 2005

Stepford Wives - well, I liked it

You have an idea. You have a book. You have a movie. Now you have another movie.

Must be The Stepford Wives, and a new take - this time directed by Frank Oz (the Muppet guy, the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels guy). Some people liked the movie; some appear to have hated it. I don't think anyone loved it.

I know I didn't. But as my review explains, I did like it - though not the first time I watched it. I think you have to be in the right mood for this one.

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