Monthly Archive for February, 2011

Footlight Parade

Footlight Parade (2/23/11) TV-TCM (1933 ***) Directed by Lloyd Bacon, starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, with choreography by Busby Berkeley. Chester Kent (Cagney) is a workaholic with a talent for producing “prologues.” And if you’re wondering what those are, you should watch this movie to find out. This movie was produced “pre-code,” and consequently it’s a lot racier than many old movies from the 1930’s. There were a couple of shots that definitely had my eyebrows raising. This also meant the movie was likely locked away in a vault, unseen for many years. As for the movie itself, the story isn’t great, and you probably wouldn’t do yourself much harm if you just fast forwarded to the three musical numbers at the end, particularly the second one.

One to Another (Chacun sa nuit)

One to Another (Chacun sa nuit) (2/22/11) Netflix (2006 *) Directed by Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, starring Lizzie Brochere and Arthur Dupont. When Lucie’s brother Pierre, with whom she had an incestuous relationship, is brutally murdered, she won’t rest until she finds the killer. Ah, what better way to spend and evening than watching an “erotically-charged” independent French film that’s based on true events? I’m not sure what possessed my wife to add this film to her Netflix queue, but I sincerely wish I had the hour and a half back that we spent watching it.

Saturday Night Live Backstage

Saturday Night Live Backstage (2/21/11) TV-NBC (2011 ***1/4) Written and directed by Kenneth Bowser. NBC’s Saturday Night went on the air in 1975 and has somehow managed to keep going, even if Gilbert Godfried describes its current incarnation as “a restaurant in a good location.” I have watched the show nearly continuously since it began, though my watching got pretty spotty in the early 1990’s. I felt that this show — which many have argued was just an excuse to show a lot of clips — was tailor suited for fans like me. There is absolutely a mystique to the show, which this special explored somewhat, talking about it in terms both reverent and also realistic, recognizing that it doesn’t necessarily have the same teeth it once had. Then again, the rest of the television industry (Family Guy, South Park) never could have pushed the boundaries if SNL hadn’t been there first.

Rooster Cogburn

Rooster Cogburn (2/21/11) Netflix (1975 **1/2) Directed by Stuart Millar, screenplay by Martha Hyer, based on the character created by Charles Portis, starring John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn Anthony Zerbe and Richard Jordan. A cantankerous drunk U.S. Marshall joins up with a feisty preacher’s daughter to track down her father’s killers and recover a load of nitroglycerin before it’s used for a bank robbery. This movie was decidedly not as strong as the original, and in many cases I wondered if I weren’t watching the pilot for a prime-time TV series. In particular, the resolution of the main conflict between Cogburn and the men he fought was decidedly anti-climactic.

New X-Men, Vol. 2

New X-Men, Vol. 2 (2/21/11) Comics (2009 ***1/4) Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely and various. Jean Grey’s Phoenix powers slowly grow while her husband Cyclops and the White Queen carry on an affair in their minds. There’s not much to say in this review that I didn’t already say in my review of the first volume, other than to say that Morrison continued to do a noble job of remaining true to the Uncanny X-Men run from the early 1980’s.

Laura

Laura (2/20/11) TV-FMC (1944 ***) Directed by Otto Preminger, starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price. A tough cop investigates the gruesome murder of a dame and falls like a sap for her portrait. The last time I watched this movie was at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto. I had remembered it as a better movie, but also how it played so much differently on a large screen in front of an audience. In particular, a couple of Dana Andrews’ facial reactions had the crowd howling with laughter and reminded me personally very much of a young Steve Martin.

The Fighter

The Fighter (2/19/11) Pasadena Arclight (2010 ***1/2) Directed by David O. Russell, starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. Based on a true story, boxer Micky Ward has one thing holding him back from greatness: his crack-addicted older brother Dicky. This film is deservedly nominated for the Best Picture, though I doubt somehow that it will win it. Christian Bale’s performance is certainly worthy, though, and I hope he gets some recognition. In contrast to the film’s serious subject matter, there was also plenty of humor, particularly in the unlikely form of Micky and Dicky’s seven bizarro sisters.

Victor / Victoria

Victor / Victoria (2/17/11) TV-TCM (1982 ***1/2) Directed by Blake Edwards, with music by Henry Mancini, starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren. In 1934 Paris a starving classically-trained singer and her newfound gay friend concoct a scheme to become a “woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.” It’s hard to believe this film is nearly 30 years old. Victor / Victoria played frequently in the early days of cable TV and I must have seen it a half-dozen times back then, but still, I’d forgotten how damned good it was. Blake Edwards passed away this past December at the age of 88, and his skill in co-writing and directing this film demonstrates why his death was such a loss. And it wasn’t just empty entertainment and catchy tunes, either; given that this film was produced during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, its pro-gay themes were fairly gutsy. It was also quite clear from every frame of this film how much he loved his wife, Julie Andrews. Even though it was made a full 15 years after The Sound of Music, she was absolutely adorable, sexy, funny and downright radiant throughout.

What’s New Pussycat?

What’s New Pussycat? (2/17/11) TV-TCM (1965 **) Directed by Clive Donner and Richard Talmadge, written by Woody Allen, starring Peter O’Toole, Woody Allen, Romy Schneider and Peter Sellers as Dr. Fritz Fassbender. A Casanova with (a) an insatiable appetite for the ladies and (b) a girlfriend who wants him to get married takes his trouble to a crackpot psychoanalyst. This film is historically important because it was the first produced film written by Woody Allen. Though What’s New Pussycat? had many of the makings of a good film, Mr. Donner’s directing ranged from “blah” to “absolutely awful.” In addition, the final “act” of the film (a rural sex-romp / go-car race that may have inspired much of Benny Hill’s career) felt wholly stitched-on. It was as if the rest of the film had been shot, edited and tested poorly for a live audience, so a new ending was needed. Also, much of the audio was garbled and hard to follow; my enjoyment probably would have increased somewhat had it been close-captioned. In the end, the three best things about the movie may well have been Romy Schneider’s adorable face, Ursula Andress’ amazing body and that awesome and memorable theme song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and sung by Tom Jones.

The Sea Hawk

The Sea Hawk (2/16/11) TV-TCM (1940 ***1/2) Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains and Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth. The capture of a Spanish ship by handsome English privateer (pirate) Geoffrey Thorpe paves the way to war between two countries. It is always such a delight when I “discover” a classic film that is as fresh and truly entertaining as this one. I was especially impressed by Michael Curtiz’ directing style, which seemed very contemporary. It was also clear from watching this movie why Errol Flynn was such a likable and popular movie star during that classic era.