Monthly Archive for December, 2014

That’s Entertainment!

That’s Entertainment! (12/31/14) TCM (1974 ****) Written and directed by Jack Haley Jr., starring Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart and many other MGM greats. The late Frank Sinatra provided bookends to an array of stars introducing various thematically-grouped collections of clips from MGM’s glory days. I’ve seen this film many times in my life. Part of my enjoyment of it now is considering the context in which it was first released. 1974, which was a world with no VCRs, DVRs, Youtube or Netflix. Though the movies in the MGM library were shown on television, it must have taken an act of courage to create this nostalgic tribute for theatrical distribution. Given that it spawned a sequel two years later, it must have been successful. Anyhow, forty years after its release, the film remains a grand sampler platter of the output of MGM’s Arthur Freed unit.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12/31/14) Starz (2014 ***) Directed by Marc Webb, based on the characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Sally Field as Aunt May. Spider-Man does his best to protect fair haired angel Gwen Stacy from dual threats Electro and The Green Goblin. I enjoyed the first Andrew Garfield film but never quite got around to seeing the sequel in the theater. There was something about it that was just unappealing. I think it was Jamie Foxx’s blue glowing f/x makeup, which he “wore” for most of the film. In general, as much as I respect him as an actor, I felt Foxx was miscast, and there was something about his character that kept reminding me of Richard Pryor’s distracting presence in Superman 3. (SPOILER ALERT) For anyone who has any knowledge of Spider-Man’s comic book history whatsoever, the fate of Gwen Stacy was a foregone conclusion. I thought it was handled fairly well, albeit a tad overly theatrical. It’s unclear as of this writing what the future awaits Spider-Man in the cinematic domain. This sequel underperformed expectations and (as of this writing) the third film has been pushed back to 2018.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (12/30/14) TCM (1948 ***) Diected by H.C. Potter, based on the novel by Eric Hodgins, starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. A Madison Avenue ad man and his wife and daughters leave their cramped Manhattan apartment and brave the wilds of Connecticut. Though pleasant enough, this is far from my favorite Cary Grant film. For starters, it starts very slowly, with an obtrusive voice over narration by Melvyn Douglas. To be honest, there’s something about the “money pit” premise that I found stressful, in a way similar to the stress I got recently from The Long, Long Trailer (1953). I accept that’s a personal peccadillo of mine, one certainly not shared by my wife, who loves this film. Sigh.

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady (12/30/14) TCM (1964 ***1/4) Directed by George Cukor, based on the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, which was in turn based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway and Wilfrid Hyde-White. A cunning linguist makes a wager that he can transform a flower girl into a lady. This film was presented on TCM as part of its Essentials series, currently co-hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. Osborne posited that this movie had a number of flaws, with the biggest being the casting of Audrey Hepburn in the leading role instead of Julie Andrews who had played Eliza Doolittle on Broadway. In fact, it was Osborne’s position that the film didn’t even deserve to be considered an “Essential.” I kept this in mind as I watched, and I definitely noticed a number of times when the film was less than perfect, and not necessarily because of Hepburn, who was certainly delightful. In particular, I felt the film’s third act was dragged out to the point of annoying me, and as much as I loved the showstopper “Get Me to the Church on Time,” it did nothing whatsoever to advance the story.

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men (12/29/14) HBO (2014 ***) Directed by George Clooney, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Bill Murray. In the closing hours of WWII, a crack squadron of art historians attempt to rescue paintings and sculpture from Nazis. This film got mediocre reviews when it was released, but my wife and I quite enjoyed it. In spite of its tepid critical reception, we were both still intrigued by the film’s premise and its cast of familiar faces. Shit, 33 years after the release of Stripes (1981), it was a kick seeing Bill Murray in uniform again. But having said that, this was definitely not the Oscar-quality film critics were hoping for from Clooney. The screenplay simply didn’t have the teeth, and given the constraint of remaining true to the historical facts, there was only so much drama inherent in the situation. Ultimately the film asks (but doesn’t necessarily try to answer) the impossible question of whether or not the preservation of a culture’s highest artistic achievements is worth the sacrifice of human life. What do you think?

Gambit

Gambit (12/28/14) TCM (1966 **1/2) Directed by Ronald Neame, starring Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine and Herbert Lom. A dancer is hired for an art heist because she’s an uncanny look-alike for a rich man’s dead wife. This film has a highly unusual structure: The first few minutes of the film show what would happen if the heist took place without a hitch. Then the clock is rewound and we see what “really” happened, where nearly everything that could go wrong does. Sadly, after the “gimmick” has been spent, the film doesn’t really hold up as a heist film, and when the final “secret” is revealed, I didn’t really buy it. Then again, it’s a film of its time, and it’s always fun to watch Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, though that’s probably not enough to really recommend it.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (12/28/14) Starz (2014 ***) Directed by James Bobin, starring Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey and the voices of Steve Whitmire (Kermit), Eric Jackobson (Miss Piggy) and Dave Goelz (Gonzo). Kermit the Frog trades places with the notorious criminal mastermind and amphibian look-alike Constantine. Now that the Muppets are back together again following the 2011 film with Jason Segel and Amy Adams, where can they (and the Disney-owned franchise) go next? The “evil twin” premise of this film may not have been the best choice. The film scored a respectable 79%, but the box office reception was surprisingly miserable, and the film made only $51.2 in domestic box office. My contention is that without the novelty of Jason Segel, the Muppets just aren’t in sync with the zeitgeist. Taking into account all the films in their felt-covered history, Muppets Most Wanted was business as usual for them, with nice but forgettable music and a peppering of interesting cameos, like Zach Galifianakis and Ray Liotta (who had previkously made a cameo in Muppets From Space (1999). I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I have a soft spot for the Muppets’ “zany antics,” which I’m sure to many younger viewers is corny and old-fashioned, or whatever the 2014 version of those sentiments are.

The Wedding Night

The Wedding Night (12/28/14) TCM (1935 **) Directed by King Vidor, starring Gary Cooper, Anna Sten, Ralph Bellamy and Helen Vinson. An F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish writer, hard up for cash to maintain his and his Zelda-ish wife’s lavish lifestyle moves to family tobacco farm in Connecticut, where he finds a muse by the name of Manya. This is a decidedly strange, post-code movie that felt at times like a pre-code film. The basic premise, with the “open relationship” between the writer and his wife led (morally) to the film’s inevitable conclusion. In an odd casting choice, Ralph Bellamy played a Polish heavy who was made up with copious amounts of mascara to make him look foreign. Though it’s not a horrible film, I can’t say I really enjoyed it at any point, and so I can’t really find grounds on which to recommend it. My wife, however, commented at one point on the striking good looks of young Gary Cooper. So, I guess, it has that going for it.

The Talk of the Town

The Talk of the Town (12/28/14) TCM (1942 ***) Directed by George Stevens, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Ronald Colman. A fugitive holes up in the attic of the house owned by a high school sweetheart, who has unfortunately rented the house to a Harvard law professor with a big stick up his ass. I watched and reviewed this film only a couple years ago (8/1/13), and in my review I commented both on the film’s tonally weird opening sequence and odd homosexual vibe. I don’t have much to add there, and my enjoyment of the film remained about the same. One new note I will add, however, is that this time around I noticed how very much the main musical theme of the film reminded me of the love theme in Star Wars. Makes me wonder how much “borrowing” John Williams did back in 1977.

Behind the Burly Q

Behind the Burly Q (12/28/14) SHO (2010 **1/2) Written and directed by Leslie Zemeckis, featuring interviews with and/or archive footage of Alan Alda, Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The sometimes sordid history of burlesque theater in America is presented, featuring interviews with a number of people who were actually a part of that world, including Alan Alda, whose father was a burlesque performer when he was a child. With all due respect, Behind the Burly Q was a fairly mediocre documentary about a fascinating chapter in entertainment history that deserved a much better handling. There were more than a few odd directorial choices made, such as the decision to include the tragic drowning death of Lou Costello’s son, which didn’t really have anything to do with the history of burlesque. It was somewhat interesting to hear Alan Alda’s stories about growing up backstage, but even that material seemed to be included more because of Alda’s “star power” rather than to provide real insight into the theatrical form’s hidden world.