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How to Steal a Million

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Starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, How to Steal a Million is another fun, witty movie. Hepburn plays the daughter of an art forger. When her home is broken into by O’Toole, her father and she fear that his forgeries will be revealed. Later they fear that a sculpture lent to a museum will be proven to be a fraud when it’s examined for insurance. Throughout the caper delights.

It’s a lighthearted romp with a clever final heist and a surprisingly moral end. It’s lots of fun and Hepburn and O’Toole are quite entertaining.

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The Film Snob’s Dictionary

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Written by David Kamp, The Film Snob’s Dictionary is a fun little reference book with a tongue-in-cheek tone that can help readers learn to b.s. their way through an erudite conversation on film or just help readers learn a little more about filmmakers and terms related to film.

Here are a few entries, chosen randomly, to give you a taste of the book:

Film Threat. Surprisingly buoyant, unsmug Web ‘zine (originally a print magazine) devoted to independent film. Where snobs go to read fulsome appreciations of Sam Raimi and interviews of such Queens of the B’s as Debbie Rochon and Tina Krause. (N.B. The website was bought and taken offline so where will we read these articles about people I never heard of?)

Mankiewicz, Herman. Gruff, whiskey-soaked, cigar chomping, old-school screenwriter par excellence (1807-1953)who bolted from his comfy perch at the Algonquin Round Table to write titles for silent films and screenplays for talkies, famously summoning his friend Ven Hecht west with te line “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition are idiots.” A dab hand at many genres–he wrote or cowrote Dinner at Eight, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and The Pride of the Yankees . . . .

Third Row, The. The only appropriate place for a true cinephile to sit, as per the dictum of  the late snob overlord and belle-lettrist Susan Sontag. Though the third row is said to provide the ideal perch from which to comfortably take in the MISE-EN-SCENE while unobstructed by fellow audience members, New York’s Anthology Film Archives, in 1970, catered to the socio-pathology of Film Snobs by opening its Invisible Cinema . . . .

The Sweet Smell of Success

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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

A Gun in Each Hand

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The Spanish film A Gun in Each Hand looks at middle aged men – their work, families, marriages, and affairs from every angle. There’s a wry wit that runs through this film that depicts several vignettes that end with a surprise. It entertains while looking intelligently at older characters. I usually don’t like films where random lives cross paths, but this film works.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Mr. Peabody (r) and Sherman

Mr. Peabody (r) and Sherman (l)

When I was growing up I loved watching Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s cartoons as they traveled to various historical events. Now all the kids who have no idea who this famed pair is can see Mr. Peabody, the genius dog, and his boy Sherman right wrongs throughout time and space. The film, which I saw on a plane, captures the heart and soul of the original. Bravo!

The film moves quickly and is witty enough for adults and offers history with a spoonful of sugar for the young. I’m telling everyone I see that they should check this out whether they have kids or not. It’s just a fun film.

Saving Mr. Banks

Chim chiminey
Chim chiminey
Chim chim chiree!
A sweep is as lucky
As lucky can be . . .

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I woke up with this song playing in my head after seeing Saving Mr. Banks last night. With stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, I expected a good movie, but those expectations were surpassed. Saving Mr. Banks follows Mrs. Travers as she heads to Disney Studios to finally discuss making her Mary Poppins into a film. Walt has been pursing the rights for 20 years, and Mrs. Travers has resisted. She doesn’t want her characters ruined. She doesn’t want music, animation or silliness. Although we all know how that worked out, we don’t know the story behind it.

SAVING MR. BANKS

The film is a witty, intelligent look at the creative process and the childhood that formed the author. Though flashbacks can be a drawback, here they’re woven into the story very naturally. I loved Emma Thompson who brings Mrs. Travers, as she insisted on being addressed, to life. Although Mrs. Travers was hard to work with every step of the way, I felt on her side. I could understand the need to make sure the writers got the story right, that Walt actually understands that Mary Poppins didn’t come to save the children. She doesn’t want her story to be changed the way Winnie the Pooh was.

I loved that this drama had wit and often made me laugh and that there wasn’t any cursing, violence or gratuitous sex. Good storytelling doesn’t need such crutches. Since I’ve grow used to the language and scenes in films, I forget how soul draining they are.

Now I’ve got to read the actual novel and perhaps some of the subsequent books. I’ve got to see the film again and find a biography of P. M. Travers.

In the Thick of It

 
If, like me, you love political satire, love VEEP and In the Loop, watch The Thick of It on hulu.com

It’s directed and devised by Armando Iannucci, who created VEEP and In the Loop. It’s a smart send up of the finagling and incompetence that rears its ugly head daily in the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Strong adult language and deft, sophisticated barbs so beware.

Outnumbered

Cast of Outnumbered

The most hilarious, smart sitcom I’ve seen in a long time is the BBC’s Outnumbered. Each week the parents Pete and Sue valiantly try to survive the chaos inherent in raising precocious children: Jake, Ben and Karen. The plots are loose and the dialog brilliant. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, much of the dialog is improvised, which is probably why what the kids say seems so real, unlike the average show where the jokes are clearly written by 27 year olds and mouthed by 7 year olds.

I’ve just seen six episodes and the main thread is that the father, a secondary school history teacher, bumbles his way around the disaster he created by making a joke at the expense of one of his heavier students. Sue is a stay at home mom, who’s often overwhelmed, but never comes across as the nincompoop say the mom in Modern Family can be. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because Sue’s smart kids often do have a good point when they argue, whereas the Modern Family kids are clearly reading from a script.

A few realistic, serious problems are woven into the series. Pete’s worried that Jake is a victim of bullying. The issue’s handled better than it would be on many sitcoms. Like in real life, Pete tries to open lines of communication, Jake denies there’s a problem. Then at the end of an episode, once you believe Jake, you see him washing his hands and his forearms are badly bruised. Another issue is caring for an elderly parent in decline. Sue has been the local go-to person for her father while her sister galavants. The sister returns and the relationship is rocky. Sue’s glad for the relief, yet has to hide her jealousy that Angela, her sister succeeds with the father – at first. So as in real life competing feelings exist in one person.

The dialog is brilliant. Take a look:

[youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRhIZCDk0Eo%5D

Karen with a nurse

Husbands and Wives

Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, is witty and fresh, though it was made in 1992. It’s fresher than his recent films that I’ve seen (N.B. I haven’t yet seen Midnight in Paris, and many have said that’s good.) With a great cast including Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Mia Farrow, Liam Nielsen, Juliette Lewis and Allen, Husbands and Wives begins with Allen’s two friends announcing they’re divorcing after 15 years. As the plot develops, all the characters question marriage, their wants and needs, their partner’s personalities and ticks, with various degrees of accuracy as the bungle along searching for authentic relationships. Allen plays a writing teacher who, surprise, surprise, falls for the most promising student in his college writing class.

The story has a similar theme to Whatever Works, but this film does work far better. Allen’s character does say something towards the end about his heart wanting what it wants . . . but you can see from this film that that doesn’t lead to a fulfilling life. The film was absorbing so it wasn’t till the end, where thoughts of Allen’s own choices in his marriage with Farrow, diverted my attention. Guess that’s bound to happen. Still it’s a well acted film with a natural plot rhythm (i.e. not glaringly influenced by Syd Field et al’s formula). This film stands the sands of time.

Disclaimer

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