Tuesday, August 30, 2011

February 2011

February was a tough movie month for a couple of reasons: first, I traveled to MIami for the big boat show, followed by a week of vacation; then I decided to start working my way through the Showtime TV series Dexter (thanks to Joan for the recommendation). I devoured the first season last month—its dozen hour-long episodes was the equivalent of six feature-length movies. I'm really enjoying the series (already two episodes in on Season 2), so older movies are probably going to get short shrift in the foreseeable future.

THE L-SHAPED ROOM (1962)—I can't remember what I read that helped catapult this movie to the top of my list, but it's one I am very grateful to scratch off it. While I am a big fan of British films, the subgenre of the so-called "kitchen sink" drama (i.e., ordinary people living in low-income homes) has never really resonated with me. The L-Shaped Room includes many of the elements of the kitchen-sink movie (i.e., star Leslie Caron is unmarried and pregnant). The twist is that she's a French girl living in a seedy boarding house. There is a love interest, there are other boarders who serve as the secondary characters, and there is lovely Leslie herself, which is the first and best reason to see this. Cicely Courtneidge has a touching turn as an aging lesbian. (8)

BRINGING UP BABY (1938)—Still riding high on my discovery of Katharine Hepburn's great 1930s beauty, I just had to check out this wild comedy, which has earned quite a reputation among film fans. "Overrated" does not begin to describe this. It's infinitely more silly than funny—there is no utterance that does not get misinterpreted by someone; no article of clothing that doesn't get ripped off someone's body by accident; no fallen article that Cary Grant doesn't trip over. It's a gigantic load of nonsense about Hepburn's pet baby leopard and her pursuit of paleontologist Grant. Despite the silliness, the final gag, involving a Brontosaurus skeleton, almost makes the whole movie worth sitting through. (6)

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)—Perhaps hungry for something lighthearted but not silly, I turned to Billy Wilder, who is one of my very favorite directors. I expected an unorthodox and offbeat revisiting of the Baker Street detective, this being a mystery not concocted by original author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But it turns out to be a standard type of Holmes story without a lot of surprises, or any surprises, to be honest. (There are some amusing homosexual references, but even those seem quaint by today's standards). The story has something to do with the Queen and the secret behind the Loch Ness Monster. Not bad, but hardly revolutionary. (7)

THE COMPANY MEN (2010)—Three men working for a large corporation, each at different levels of seniority, must face the spectre of unemployment when the recession catches up with them. Ben Affleck plays a wealthy, up-and-coming financier who loses his job and must support his family by becoming (eek!) a laborer. The story passes the time well enough, but it's a bit off-putting to be made to feel sorry for the incredibly privileged. (8)

THE PRESTIGE (2006)—I can't remember how I could have missed this movie about magicians. It came out the same year as The Illusionist, which Joan and I quite enjoyed, but somehow this one slipped past me. I have been meaning to correct that oversight and now I have. Unfortunately, despite a great cast (including Christian Bale) and some interesting twists, this movie disappoints because of its preposterous science-fiction elements (i.e., David Bowie, as the electricity pioneer Tesla, is supposed to have invented a matter-transporter back in the 19th Century. And what does he do with this revolutionary invention? He sells it to a magician—what else?) Always nice to see Michael Caine, and even nicer to see Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall. (7)

A VERY SPECIAL FAVOR (1965)—After The L-Shaped Room, I was curious to see more of Leslie Caron. She's captivating in this picture, as always. This was one of many sex comedies from the 1960s that had a lot of talk but zero action. It's basically a Big Lie movie, and a piece of nonsensical fluff, but it's cute. (8)

BIUTIFUL (2010)—Tragic, well-acted drama, in Spanish, about Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a father of two in Barcelona who tries to find a balance between both sides of the law—and then discovers he's dying of cancer. We watch in grim sadness as his life spirals farther and farther out of control, trying to maintain civility with his bipolar ex-wife while his body falls apart. It's a mesmerizing downer. Thanks to Irene for inviting me to the Academy screening. (8)

I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011)—Caught this one with Connie while visiting Hollywood, FL. It's a totally forgettable teenage superhero-type flick that's like a hybrid of the TV series Roswell and Heroes. Just a dumb, fun popcorn movie about some badass aliens who just want to find the title protagonist and kill him. (8)

THE SEARCHERS (1956)—I closed February by screening two John Wayne movies directed by the legendary John Ford. The first has always been spoken about as one of the very best films the Duke ever made; it's supposed to be "complex" and ahead of its time. Although certainly watchable, I didn't find it particularly complex—it seems like an ordinary Civil War-era Western about a little girl kidnapped by Indians and the quest to get her back. (Actually, it's an absurdly simple plot.) Interesting to see Natalie Wood playing a 15-year-old. Great color cinematography. (8)

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)—Ingeniously plotted B&W Western pairing John Wayne with Jimmy Stewart, who in 1962 was a little long in the tooth to be playing the character he does here, but he's so good that we work extra hard to forgive him for not being the ideal age. This is a great flashback movie where the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together until the final one snaps into place perfectly. Lee Marvin has never been more sinister. My favorite film of the month! (9)

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