I’m with Klatuu

It’s only about a minute and this video my friend made me smile.

Gosnell

Gosnell, the movie about the raid and trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell whom the police learned about while tracking down illegal drug prescription sales. When raiding Gosnell’s clinic they discover a filthy facility where illegal activity is taking place. Gosnell, who comes across as creepy at best, was discovered to be performing illegal late term abortions, killing babies who survived abortions and of manslaughter in the case of one woman.

The film could be a lot more graphic. It protects viewers from the gore, but it is a violent topic and Gosnell seemed to relish and horde the remains of his work.

Much of the film follows the lead police officer and attorney who prosecute Gosnell. An important subplot involves a young, hip blogger who’s the only journalist with an interest in the story. She become key to the prosecution. It was particularly interesting to see how this young woman was initially given the brush off, but once the lawyer and officer listen, they realize that she has gotten crucial evidence.

The film was initially conceived as a TV movie and has that look. Still the acting was capable. At times the dialog was rather artificial in the way that Hollywood screenwriting can be. Nonetheless, I appreciated this film about a news story I knew little about.

Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants

Directed by David Mamet, Rick Jay & His 52 Assistants astounds and entertains as Jay displays his card magic. Though he’s been around for decades, I’d never heard of Jay. In my rare books class we covered magic books and learned about Jay as he’d visit the antiquarian book store where my professor taught.

The film has a definite Mamet imprint in the setting and the rhythm. Just watch for a couple minutes. You’ll be amazed.

Cinderella

Lily James as Cinderella

Lily James as Cinderella

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the new Cinderella movie left me cold. While the cast included Cate Blancette as the evil step mother, Downton Abbey stars Lily James (Rose) as Cinderella and Sophie McShera (Daisy) as an evil step sister, I think the weak script didn’t provide the actresses with much to work with.

The story begins with Ella as a young girl with perfect parents. Her mother’s death was implausibly quick as the woman goes from tucking her angel into bed and feeling fine to walking out of the bedroom and fainting to a schmaltzy death bed scene where the mother tells Ella to be brave and kind. These words make up the theme of the movie and grew tiresome because they’re so obvious.

I did like that by the time her father’s remarried and she’s exiled to the attic, Ellla meets the prince and captivates him with her wisdom (such as it was). At least this film tries to make the prince respect Cinderella for her character rather than just her looks.

Cinderella gets her nickname from one of her silly evil stepsisters, who’re evil, but not as mean as I’d expect. The same could be said for the stepmother – make her more evil.

Cinderella’s gown and hair do look stunning even when she’s a pauper. While the stepmother and stepsisters’ costumes are lavish, they look influenced by the 1940s which made it hard to place the story in an era. I imagine Cinderella set in the 18th century or earlier. I wish this story had picked an era and stuck with it.

Helena Bonham Carter does a good job as the fairy godmother, though I’d have thought this role could be more than just a character who magically solves Cinderella by giving her a gown, glass slippers and a carriage. The glass carriage looked very cool, but the metamorphosis of the footmen and horses is done with computer animation and this execution just looked weird.

The story is so well known. It’s been done so many times that to do a new version a filmmaker should have a masterful new take. That was missing. I still prefer the Rogers and Hammerstein version with Leslie Ann Warren.

Miss Annie Rooney

annie rooney

With the end of 2014, came retrospectives reminding us of all the talented, accomplished people who died last year. One was Shirley Temple Black so I thought it fitting to watch one of her movies. Netflix just had Miss Annie Rooney, which I’d never seen so the choice was easy. (I’d expect Netflix to have a few more.)

Shirley plays the title character, a young teenager with dreams of high romance. Annie and her friend live half their lives in a very romantic dream world where they quote plays and use as many elegant words as they can without fussing about whether they use them correctly. They’re cute and funny.

Annie’s family consists of her father who’s just one “get rich quick” scheme away from becoming a millionaire and her grandfather, a retired policeman who’s traded his uniform in for an apron as he is the chief cook and bottle washer at home. Grandpa is only the Rooney with both feet on the ground. Her father is a salesman attracted to get rich quick schemes and unable to keep money in his pocket to pay the rent. As the story progresses, the father imperils the family financially, while the grandfather tries to keep them afloat by borrowing from his pension.

Annie soon meets a very wealthy young man and is smitten with his polish. Trouble arises when he invites her to his birthday party without telling his snobbish parents. Annie’s introduction into society is not what she’d dreamed. I loved the dialog and slang. A drizzle puss is a wet blanket and pocket lettuce means cash. There are dozens of such  gems.

Joey, there are times when you positively curdle me.”
“Come on gate! Let’s circulate”
“I won’t know any arithmetic under a million.”

This Shirley Temple film was a balm to my soul after watching the masterful, but dark Happy Valley, The Village and One Wonderful Sunday, a Kirosawa movie I’ll soon review. It’s light-hearted fare and a fun way to see Temple as an older character.

The Sweet Smell of Success

sweet smell

When I made my 2014 New Year’s Resolution to watch one old movie (i.e. before 1960) I had no idea where it would take me. I’ve discovered so many terrific films due to this challenge and the limited, but good selection at my local DVD store.

A prime example is the 1957 The Sweet Smell of Success  starring Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a struggling, opportunistic press agent who’s both manipulating and manipulated as he tries to get the powerful J.J. Hunsecher played by Burt Lancaster to write about his clients. It’s a career based on lies, begging and creating an icy cool image. J.J. is based on Walter Winchell, a columnist who pioneered the celebrity beat. Here J.J. gets Sidney to break up a romance between his sister and a jazz musician. No one would be good enough for J.J.’s sister Susie. There’s definitely a weird one way vibe between J.J. and Susie, who’s in love with clean cut Dallas.

Sidney has few scruples about setting up Dallas. The one time he objects to J.J.’s plan, he capitulates. Anything to further his career. Sidney lives on the edge in a corrupt world with edgy, witty dialog and high stakes. The few times his maneuvers don’t work, like when he tries to blackmail one of J.J.’s rivals, it backfires. Sidney never thought that someone in his field might prefer to come clean to his wife than to do his bidding. Sidney’s doomed as he’s neither as powerful as J.J. or honest like Dallas or the clean-when-forced-to-be columnist.

The Sweet Smell of Success is set in a kind of hell, a hell with witty reparteés, stylish women and men in sharp suits sipping martini’s. It’s fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to come within a mile of any of the characters.

I’m now re-watching with the Criterion Collection commentary to eke all I can from the film.

A few quotes:

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 1.50.21 PM

Showboat

showboat1951_poster“Old Man River”, “Bill”, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man“,  I’d heard the songs before, but hadn’t seen the movie. So it’s this week’s old movie. Set in the late 19th century, Showboat tells the story of Magnolia, a young girl, whose parents own a showboat, a river boat that goes up and down the Mississippi performing for people on the river banks. (It seems like a cool idea I’d like to see revived.) The stars of the show are Julie and her husband Steve. When a jealous, no good man discovers Julie doesn’t want anything to do with him, he tells the police Julie’s secret, that she’s half Black. Since interracial marriages were illegal, the police force Julie and Steve off the boat.

Since the show must go on, young Magnolia (Nolia) and Gaylord Ravenal, a talented, dashing singer are tapped to fill in. They’re a hit and fall instantly in love. Nolia’s parents are skeptical about Gaylord for their daughter. He certainly not stable, but Nolia ignores them and marries her true love. They leave the showboat and head to Chicago where Gaylord, who is a big gambler makes a fortune and soon loses it all. Ashamed and broke, Gaylord deserts Nolia leaving her with enough money to go back to her parents. He’s unaware that she’s pregnant. Julie also hits the skids and winds up drinking too much on a regular basis while getting by singing at a nightclub in Chicago. Steve has left her and she’s never gotten over it. When Nolia comes to the club to audition, Julie catches a glimpse of her and secretly acts to give her a break. While there’s plenty of coincidence, the songs and the emotion carry the show and make it satisfying.

SPOILER

I do think that the ending is one written for an earlier era. When Gaylord eventually returns after about 5 years’ absence, Magnolia immediately takes him back and the band strikes up a happy tune. Nowadays we’re more cautious. I tend to think more proof is needed before taking a gambling husband back. In the interim, Gaylord had continued to gamble. There’s no suggestion that he can sustain real change, which wouldn’t make Nolia or her daughter’s life much better.

Still that’s a minor flaw. All in all, Showboat’s wonderful songs still make it a good musical centered on interesting themes.

A terrific movie I hadn’t heard a peep about.

Mixed Media

The Exam

A Hungarian film, that’s won some festival awards, The Exam(A Visgva in Hungarian) is a terrific thriller that’s hard to find. I saw it on my flight home from China. It’s not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. However, it’s captivating and well worth seeing.

Directed by Péter Bergendy and written by Hungary’s prolific, accomplished Norbert Köbli, The Exam is a spy thriller that shows the secret police spying on themselves, testing agent’s loyalty in 1957.

As Christmas approaches, Jung, an exemplary spy who interviews citizens from all walks of life to ferret out the counter revolutionaries, doesn’t realize that his mentor Marko is spying on him, recording his every move as part of a program to spy on the spies.

The film recreates Communist Hungary and all the distrust and suspicion inherent in that regime. It’s tense and keeps the audience guessing, much like The Lives of Others

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