My movie viewing got off to a shaky start in the new year—only one new feature film and two oldies (and I wasn’t really crazy about any of them). As always, there have been distractions, mostly TV-related. I finished binge-watching Jimmy McGovern’s Accused, started on Angie Tribeca (a Merf recommendation) and continued with my regular shows, which were—howsoever briefly—back from winter vacation. This was the month I dog-sat for the Newmans while they were in Mexico; my newly acquired Jeep had to be serviced; I made plans for a four-night cruise in February; and I flew to San Jose to see South Bay Musical Theatre’s production of Forever Plaid, as well as a wretched non-musical play called Tigers Be Still. Jay introduced me to Midsomer Murders, and I forced him to watch my favorite episode of Black Mirror. This was also the month I started to “drill and grade” the entire discography of 1970s rock group America. To be fair, January wasn’t a great month for new movies. Here’s hoping better entertainment options appear in February. Always the cockeyed optimist!
LAMB (2015)—Even at a mere 13 years old, Oona Laurence is a revelation. I’ve seen her in several TV shows (including Orange Is the New Black, Louie and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and movies (I Smile Back, Southpaw). She has been excellent in each one. When I heard she was starring in a new film, I rushed to see it. It’s about a troubled guy in his 40s (Ross Partridge) who meets a little girl (Laurence) and invites her to his cabin in the mountains for a couple of weeks to show her the beauty of the great outdoors. If this sounds like a kidnapping, well, it is. Partridge uses his charms to ingratiate himself to the girl, whose parents are rather neglectful and who craves adult approval. Although Partridge’s intentions aren’t sexual, it’s still a massively creepy movie, and really makes you feel uncomfortable. As usual, though Laurence gives a first-rate performance. Based on Bonnie Nadzam’s novel. (6)
THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS (1958)—Another recommendation from Merf. This is a biographical movie about Gladys Aylward, a missionary who traveled to China to spread the word of God to the Chinese, and ended up doing a lot of good work for them during World War II. Though entertaining and well made, the story has been heavily fictionalized by Hollywood, with many liberties taken with the real story. The real Aylward was a tiny Cockney woman, and not very attractive. So who do they cast? Who else—stunning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman! She falls in love with a half-Chinese guy. Who do they cast? White German actor Curd Jürgens! The local mayor is an old Chinese dude. Who do they cast? White British actor Robert Donat! Of course, the idea of a British woman rushing to educate Chinese people about the ways of Jesus reminds me of the American who rushed to teach malnourished Africans about proper nutrition by bringing them McDonalds. "I think this is why God wanted me to go to China!" she squeals when the bombs start dropping. Oh, brother! Still, Bergman's performance was great; she deserved her nomination for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. (8)
THE WICKER MAN (1973)—For many years, I have been reading rave reviews of this British horror movie, which is supposed to be unique in various ways. It’s very highly regarded, and allegedly quite frightening and creepy. A police sergeant receives an anonymous letter that a girl living on a remote Scottish island village has been murdered. The cop (Edward Woodward), a devout Christian, is troubled when the villagers at first deny knowing anything about the girl. Then he observes them engaging in some alarming pagan-type behavior. Slowly he comes to suspect that the girl has been sacrificed, but I figured out what was really going on about halfway through. The film, which is easily 30 minutes too long, is loaded with colorful but mostly unnecessary musical numbers; many scenes seem to be bad rushes, so crisply filmed passages alternate with blurry, hard-to-see ones. There are also a lot of plot holes and lapses of logic—so many, in fact, that this movie is basically idiotic. But Christopher Lee, as the local leader of the village, does a good job with his character, and beautiful Britt Ekland (though dubbed and with an occasional body double) is gorgeous and often topless. Remade in 2006 with Nicholas Cage. (4)