Monthly Archive for October, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (10/30/09) TV-HDNET (1961 ***1/4) Directed by Blake Edwards, screenplay by George Axelrod, based on the novel by Truman Capote, starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. A “kept” man falls for Holly Golightly, a woman who takes “powder room” money from men in exchange for… favors. I’ve watched this film a few times over the years, and it’s never quite spoken to me in the way it has for many people. I think that’s had a lot to do with the moral mid-ground on which the main characters stood. Watching it now at age 45, I liked it a bit more, possibly because I may be less rigidly judgmental than I once was. Even with that, it’s still a very hard film to love, unreservedly: Audrey Hepburn’s strong performance made Peppard’s weaknesses as an actor all the more apparent. There were also a lot of strange directorial choices made, with the strangest being Mickey Rooney’s off-the-charts offensive portrayal of Japanese photographer Mr. Yunioshi. It was often unclear whether Blake Edwards thought he was directing a drama or a comedy, with tones shifting on scene-by-scene basis.

Life of Brian

Life of Brian (10/29/09) TV-IFC (1979 ***1/4) Directed by Terry Jones, starring Graham Chapman and the rest of the Monty Python troupe. Born the same day as Jesus, Brian of Nazareth follows a path similar to that of the messiah, all the way to Golgotha, the hill where Christ was crucified. I was inspired to watch this film after watching the 6-part documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth — The Lawyer’s Cut. In fact, that documentary actually contained this film virtually in its entirety, or at least that’s the way it seemed. I loved Life of Brian when I was in high school, and I can remember happily singing Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” I acknowledge that doing a New Testament-themed comedy was a pretty gutsy move in 1979. While I enjoyed watching it again after all these years, it seemed to have lost some of its potency.

Strategic Air Command

Strategic Air Command (10/29/09) TV-TCM (1955 **) Directed by Anthony Mann, starring James Stewart and June Allyson. A ball player / air force reservist is reactivated and forced to give up his career and return to the service. My grandfather and uncle both served in the air force and I have the utmost respect for that branch of our armed services. However, this movie, which consisted largely of beautiful shots of beautiful bombers, was essentially a recruitment film, and it was hard for me to get past that. There was some melodrama thrown into the mix, but the propagandistic anti-communistic agenda of the film remained clear. It just occurred to me: This would be an excellent film to show in a class teaching future generations about the cold war.

Barefoot in the Park

Barefoot in the Park (10/27/09) TV-TCM (1967 ***) Directed by Gene Saks, screenplay by Neil Simon (based on his play), starring Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Charles Boyer and Mildred Natwick. Two newlyweds start their lives together in a small fifth floor apartment in a building inhabited by colorful characters. As with many films based on plays, it was easy to see the play in the film. This was a pleasant enough story, though it wasn’t particularly complex or deep. I owe the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did to strong performances by its four stars.

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (10/26/09) TV-TCM (1953 **1/2) Directed by Don Weis, screenplay by Max Shulman (based on his book), starring Debbie Reynolds, Bobby Van, Barbara Ruick and Bob Fosse. “All I do the whole day through is dream of you…” Dobie Gillis, a young man more interested in fooling around than studying goes to college and falls in love with Debbie Reynolds. When I was a teenager I went on something of a Max Shulman kick and I read his “Dobie Gillis” book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This movie was strictly lightweight fare, and unfortunately it never really elevated above that. Dobie Gillis as a character, of course, went on to further success on the small screen for four seasons in the series starring Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray (10/26/09) TV-TCM (1945 ***) Written and directed by Albert Lewin, based on the novel by Oscar Wilde, starring George Sanders, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury and Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. An enchanted portrait reveals the scars and blisters of depravity earned by its subject. This was a strange film in that it began as a drama, painting (so to speak) a sympathetic portrait (so to speak) of a man who began as an innocent but gradually descended the staircase of sin. Around the halfway point of the film there was a tonal shift in the story (from drama to horror) and the final shots were quite horrific. It’s worth noting that while the film was shot in black and white, there were several inserted shots showing the titular painting in color, primarily for shock value. I can only imagine it must have elicited an audible gasp from the 1940’s audience.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth — The Lawyer’s Cut

Monty Python: Almost the Truth — The Lawyer’s Cut (10/24/09) TV-IFC (2009 ***1/2) Directed by Bill Jones (son of Terry Jones), Alan G. Parker and Benjamin Timlett. This six-part documentary follows the origins and arc of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was a big Python fan when I was a teenager and into my early 20’s, but I haven’t really watched their TV shows or any of their films since then. Part of the pleasure I got from this documentary was seeing some of that material again after so long. As documentaries go, this was well-executed and went into a depth I appreciated. The conflicts between members of the group were apparent, but they were neither dwelled upon nor coated with sugar. It was clear that an invisible line was drawn subject-wise around Monty Python as an entity. Solo efforts, such as Terry Gilliam’s subsequent career as a film director, weren’t really discussed. While I appreciated the need for focus, I wish some of that tangential material had been touched upon, especially since members of Python often worked with each other.

Videodrome

Videodrome (10/22/09) TV-TCM (1983 **1/2) Written and directed by David Cronenberg, starring James Woods, Sonja Smits and Deborah Harry. A sleezeball TV executive stumbles upon a hallucination-inducing S&M TV show called Videodrome. Also, you get to see Blondie’s Debbie Harry semi-nude! Believe it or not, the one and only time I watched this film previously was as part of a college class, around 1986 or so. David Cronenberg was (and perhaps still is) a pretty twisted guy. At the point in his career when he made Videodrome his writing skills were clearly still developing, but with characters with names like “Brian O’Blivion,” its apparent he was having a lot of fun. I can’t actually recommend this film in good conscious, but if you want to see just how weird and morally ambiguous the 1980’s could be, give it a shot.

Almost Infamous

Almost Infamous (10/21/09) DWA Screening (2008 ***1/4) Directed by Ken Bielenberg, produced by Alonzo Ruvalcaba. This documentary follows The Kinsey Sicks — a quartet who dresses in drag and sings politically-charged songs — as they take the uneven path to Vegas and potential stardom. Unfortunately, that description, while accurate, makes it all too easy to dismiss their act sight unseen, and it makes them (and this film) a bit of a hard sell. After watching Almost Infamous and witnessing the journey taken by The Kinsey Sicks, I have far more respect for the performers than I expected to have and I hope I get the chance to see them live someday.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (10/19/09) DWA Screening (2009 ***1/2) Written and Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, based on the book by Judi and Ron Barrett, featuring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg and Mr. T. Flint Lockwood, his town’s answer to Thomas Edison, invents a machine that turns water into food, and he becomes a local hero… at first. I loved this movie, and it’s definitely my favorite Sony Animation film yet. Much of its quality came from the script, which seemed to sparkle with freshness and originality throughout. I got the sense that it was deliberately commercial, but that’s not all bad. After some less-than-successful offerings by the studio (Monster House, Beowulf, Surf’s Up), I sincerely hope Sony can continue making family-friendly animated films of this caliber.