Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film and Book Tally 2016

Well, this year was utter shit, wasn't it? Loads of celebrities dropping like flies, politics becoming an absolute joke...if it wasn't for a few personal bright spots (took some college courses, went to a few film festivals, became a member of the Women Film Critics Circle), I would've written this whole year as nothing more than a mess.

Anyway, onto what I indulged in this year. I saw more movies this year but read less books. Still, at least I made the most of these crummy twelve months. (Apparently grieving over celebrities can be best treated by watching movies. Who knew?)

My list starts after the jump:

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

How does one describe Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? It's more than a simple musical, much more than that. (It is Demy after all.) But it's more than the typical fare the likes of MGM churned out at the time. But how?

The film follows the young love between Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), stalled because of him being drafted. He leaves her alone and pregnant, yearning for him to return to her. But will this long-distance relationship survive?

Being the second of a sort of trilogy (the other films being Lola and The Young Girls of Rochefort), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg establishes Demy's standing in the world of film. In contrast to the films made by his wife Agnès Varda, his works more often than not are romanticized visions of reality. (Compare Lola with Cléo from 5 to 7.)

In a way, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a low-scale opera. (All of the dialogue is sung.) There's that tone -- pardon the pun -- of melodrama throughout, yes, but that's the point. It's supposed to be morose amid the various pastels. (What, you never heard of the concept of dissonance?)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg shows how one's aspirations and dreams don't often come to fruition. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your life to move forward, even if you don't want to. But as time wears on, you'll realize you've made a wise decision. (No one ever said or expected life to be fair to them from beginning to end.)

My Rating: ****1/2


Life seems good for Ann Walton (Mala Powers) initially in Ida Lupino's Outrage. Recently engaged, she's happy with how things are going for her. But after she gets raped, she feels like those around her are judging her. How will Ann recover?

Unsurprisingly Outrage cause a little bit of the film's namesake upon its release. It being the second film at the time to have rape as its main topic (the first being Johnny Belinda), it sure as hell doesn't sugarcoat the matter. (With a woman at the helm, that's even more clear.)

And Lupino completely avoids any form of victim blaming towards Ann, who's treated with sympathy by those that know her. (Any type of disgust for what happened is directed towards her attacker.) But even with condolences, Ann still feels like she's being judged.

Even after she runs away, Ann finds some difficulty in regaining order in her life. Again, she's met with sympathy by the people she encounters (but not generally everyone). But slowly she gets a new perspective on the world she's a part of. (Her eyes do lose that spark of innocence.) It's a tough road for Ann to go down, yes, but no one ever said life itself would be without its problems.

Outrage continues to show what Lupino could depict both as a woman and a director. (How many directors -- male or female -- focus on the matter of assault outside of shock value and cheap drama?) As she showed a few years later with The Bigamist, Lupino showed that she was interested in subject matter that no one at the time would touch with a ten-foot pole. (Clearly her career as a director should be held in higher regard.)

My Rating: ****

The Great White Hope

It's made clear early on in Martin Ritt's The Great White Hope that Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones, who's basically Jack Johnson in all but name) has controversy following him like a bad smell. There are many things that have earned him a bad reputation, none more so than his relationship with Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander).

This being made a few years after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, there are several aspects of The Great White Hope that make it more dated than it should be. It focuses more on the matter of race more than anything else happening in the film. Sure, it might have been daring stuff back in 1970 but it doesn't hold water in 2016.

Similarly, The Great White Hope seems conflicted as to which subject to focus on solely: Jack and Eleanor's relationship (and what those around them feel about it) or his boxing career. Again, this is set in the 1910s so racism was unfortunately commonplace. But even then it feels heavyhanded. (Then again, subtlety wasn't really a known aspect in other titles from the 1970s.)

Now if the film hasn't held up, what of Jones and Alexander's work in The Great White Hope? Admittedly he's forever known for Star Wars and she's the lesser-known of the multi-nominated actors, but overall they don't really provide anything groundbreaking. Maybe back then they did but certainly don't now.

The Great White Hope was perhaps something of high quality upon its release but it certainly hasn't held up decades later. (Hey, not everything from the 1970s was good.) All in all, only see it if you're going through every Oscar-nominated performance.

My Rating: ***

Portrait of Jason

Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason isn't the conventional type of documentary. Its subject Jason Holliday (née Aaron Payne) isn't a name very well known by the masses but he's an engaging figure to watch as he tells his life story and ambitions. But is it as simple as that?

What's shown in Portrait of Jason could easily be described as that from the first few minutes but it unravels into something much more than that. Being made during a time where race and sexual identity were regular points of discussion (it certainly wasn't always), Clarke depicts an unbiased glimpse into someone's own life and how they see the world around them.

A key aspect throughout Portrait of Jason is how Jason presents himself to the camera. He has a flamboyant nature to him, a telling detail since he wants to be an entertainer. But as the film wears on, the barriers he had put up start to fall down. Off-camera taunts from Clarke and her then-partner Carl Lee reveal who Jason actually by film's end.

Being released the same year as Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, Portrait of Jason came out at a time when Hollywood was changing the rules. No more were the storytellers going to play it safe and get by with the occasional stray innuendo. But 1967 was the year that marked a cinematic revolution.

Portrait of Jason showed that women may have gotten the short end of the stick in previous years but they sure as hell weren't going to be in that position any longer. As Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino did before her, Clarke shows there's much more to storytelling than the then-required romantic subplot. They showed that a new perspective can be a good thing.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's Love I'm After

The opening scene of Archie Mayo's It's Love I'm After has Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) performing the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. Between lines of passion, they mutter insults under their breaths. All while the audience -- which includes infatuated heiress Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland) -- remain unaware.

That said, Basil and Joyce are crazy for one another. (Suffice to say this is much more amusing if you've seen Howard and Davis in Of Human Bondage beforehand.) They plan to get married for the umpteenth time but Basil gets whisked away at the very last minute. And it has something to do with Marcia.

Reuniting with Howard and Davis a year after The Petrified Forest, Mayo gets these two otherwise serious actors to loosen up. (Certainly not usual fare for them or de Havilland, that's for sure.) And considering some of the roles in the actors' futures (Gone with the Wind for Howard and de Havilland, many roles of note for Davis), it's a nice change of pace. Suffice to say none of them would hit this comedic peak again.

And again, screwball comedy sounds like the very last thing any of its lead actors would try to conquer. But considering the collective sixteen Oscar nominations between the three of them, they obviously had talent. Sometimes it takes the right director to utilize all of that talent.

It's Love I'm After is a riot to watch, especially considering the names attached to it. It also shows how Hollywood's foray into comedy was often better whilst under the Hays Code. (One can only stand so many lewd jokes in contemporary titles.)

My Rating: *****

Sherlock Jr.

There are many comedians of the silent film era but when discussing who among them is the best, it always boils down to two names: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Is it primarily because their works are are more prominent? Either way, it's their films everyone remembers more.

Now with Keaton's Sherlock Jr., it doesn't take much to see why he's so revered all these years later. Made at the height of his fame, it predated The Purple Rose of Cairo by several decades with its main storytelling aspect. But of course Woody Allen is no match to Keaton. (Let's be honest, no one is.)

Back to Keaton for a moment. He was someone who was willing to put his own neck on the line for the sake of others' entertainment. Here in Sherlock Jr., he does that in a literal sense. (There's one stunt that resulted in his neck being fractured, something Keaton didn't know until many years after the fact.) It's a miracle he lived as long as he did.

But also of note in Sherlock Jr. is how many of its shots are framed. Much like what he would do with The General two years later, Keaton utilizes the techniques of the time and puts them to good use. And as seen with his other films, it works.

Sherlock Jr. is a Keaton film through and through. Featuring many traits of his noted works, it also serves as a tribute to movies themselves. Because after all, who doesn't go to the movies to escape from reality and broaden their imagination? (It's been happening for decades, and there's no sign of that stopping anytime soon.)

My Rating: *****

Personal Property

It's a shame that Jean Harlow left this world at such a young age. Who knows what her career would've been like had she not died at twenty-six? Would she still be held in the same regard as she is now?

Ergo there's a certain sadness when watching her in W.S. Van Dyke's Personal Property, the last film of Harlow's to be released during her lifetime. She has a quick wit about her throughout the film, especially aided when she banters with co-star Robert Taylor. (Had she lived long enough, they probably would've gone on to have a film partnership like William Powell -- Harlow's fiance -- and Myrna Loy.)

A remake of The Man in Possession from six years earlier, Personal Property is a comedy of manners, something that comes to a head during a dinner party hosted by Crystal (Harlow). Her guests become oblivious to the thinly-veiled insults thrown about. (Worth mentioning that some of the guests are part of Raymond's (Taylor) family.) To watch Crystal and Raymond being in on the joke adds to the humor.

Back to the stars for a moment. Throughout his career, Taylor tended to get overshadowed by his leading ladies (Camille, Three Comrades, Waterloo Bridge) but with Personal Property, he and Harlow share the screen gracefully. It's not that often both then and now where the leading man and lady's chemistry compliments one another. (Then again, this perhaps isn't much of a surprise considering Van Dyke made The Thin Man a few years earlier.)

Personal Property is a joy to watch but again, knowing what happened to Harlow that same year leaves many "what could have been" scenarios as a result. Still, her rapport with Taylor will have you happy that her short time alive is still beloved today.

My Rating: ****

Kings Go Forth

The usual formula for Hollywood fare back in the 1950s often followed these elements: get a couple of big names in top billing, have a nice blend of action and romance, and keep it all under two hours. (The latter is ignored when epics are involved.) Seriously, randomly pick out five titles from the decade, and at least three of them fall under this type of picture.

Delmar Daves' Kings Go Forth ticks off every box. It has a story told many times before (two men fighting over a woman) but does it manage to stand out from similar works? (It's also set during World War II, another common setting amongst films at the time.)

Amongst its top-billed stars are Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, all of whom had established themselves as serious actors in previous years (Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success, Wood in Rebel Without a Cause). Though here in Kings Go Forth, they don't really have much to do here. (A paycheck project for one or all three of them, perhaps?)

But a major theme throughout Kings Go Forth is racism (Wood's character is of mixed race). But the film is more interested in the romantic rivalry at hand than any form of social commentary. (At least Curtis did The Defiant Ones the same year.)

Kings Go Forth is more or less the expected fare of the time, requiring its location to be exotic and its actors to look impeccable. Substance-wise the film doesn't have much to offer but still, it's a good enough escape from reality. (Hey, it had tough competition that year.)

My Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Private Lives

Love and marriage, love and marriage...go together like a horse and carriage... Or at least that's how the song goes. If fiction has shown us anything, it's nothing more than a union of a tempestuous nature. (Because -- at least according to Hollywood -- stable marriages are boring.)

And boy, there is never a dull moment in Sidney Franklin's Private Lives. (Being based on a Noël Coward play certainly helps.) Despite being divorced and newly married to other people, Amanda Payne (Norma Shearer) and Elyot Chase (Robert Montgomery) find themselves in each other's arms. That said, they argue more than enjoy the other's company.

This being a pre-Code title, there's decidedly a more lax attitude in Private Lives towards infidelity. (After all, Shearer did The Divorcee just the previous year.) As shown with other films from this brief era, it has an "I don't give a damn" attitude essentially from the get-go. (Even films today aren't as brazen.)

Shearer and Montgomery were frequent collaborators (Private Lives was their fourth of five films), and it's very clear that they were comfortable with each other. And boy, does ti come to a head here. There are enough sparks and hair flying between them to warrant a safety hazard.

Private Lives shows that they just don't make 'em like they used to anymore. Shearer and Montgomery solidify their worth in their respective Hollywood era which -- as they would show with later roles -- proved that they were more than willing to break free from their glamorous typecasting. After all, the line between elegant and ugly was regularly blurred then.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Hat

Ah, mistaken identity: sheer fodder for comedy. It could fall into grating territory for those not patient with such a plot. But if it's done properly, it can lead to something good.

Mark Sandrich's Top Hat follows such a plot. Upon first seeing Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) becomes smitten with her. Dale, however, thinks Jerry is her friend's husband. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Top Hat was the fourth of ten films Astaire and Rogers did together bit it's easily the best-known of their collaboration. It has a buoyant almost slapstick air to it, certainly not something one would expect from the elegantly dressed pair. But it works nonetheless.

And of course with Astaire and Rogers being the stars, the main focus of Top Hat is the dancing. (This is where the famous "Cheek to Cheek" number comes from.) Being made in a time when the Great Depression was only just beginning, it provided audiences that escape they were looking for from reality.

Top Hat shows that sometimes the best remedy for the blues is a dose of Astaire and Rogers. (Hell, any musical, really.) Come to think of it, isn't that always a good remedy for when feeling down, seeking out a movie of a lighthearted nature? (From personal experience, it often works.)

My Rating: *****

Footlight Parade

As the song goes, there's no business like show business like no business I know. And boy, Hollywood sure loves to proving that time and time again. It doesn't matter if it's the good, the bad or the ugly; the industry is just a feeding ground for material.

Lloyd Bacon's Footlight Parade follows Chester Kent (James Cagney) as he tries to eke out a living following the advent of talkies. This being during the Great Depression, it's a hard time for most everyone trying to make it. But will Chester be fortunate enough to do so?

Being a film with choreography by Busby Berkeley, Footlight Parade has those stunning musical numbers. (And Berkeley wasn't even the first choice for the job.) Anyway, when you see those intricate pieces, you almost forget that the United States was in the throes of financial ruin.

Bear in mind that Cagney only made his big break two years prior with The Public Enemy, and already he was being typecast in gangster roles. But as he would show with his other films that year (as well as his Oscar-winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy nine years later), there was more to him than as the hoodlum with a temper that matched his height; the man had range.

Footlight Parade is a delight. The rapid-fire delivery from the actors -- Cagney and Joan Blondell in particular -- shows that they just don't make 'em like they used to. (Honestly, screenwriters should take notes from pre-Code titles.)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Silent Partner

Usually with heist pictures, the primary focus is on the actual heist itself and only sometimes on the aftermath. Sure, there's nothing wrong with depicting the crime by its lonesome but what happens afterwards could be of interest too.

Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner provides an example of such. Yes, it does focus on the first few bungled attempts at robbing a bank but there's more to it as it unfolds. What Duke shows with his film is something more calculating.

No doubt that has something to do with the script by Curtis Hanson, who passed away this past September. As he would show with L.A. Confidential nearly twenty years later, he displays a deeply layered story of crime and deceit. Truly, we've lost an unsung great this year. (Well, one of several.)

Now onto the two performances of note from The Silent Partner: Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer. Gould shows a cunning nature in his role. But it's Plummer who steals the whole show. (He is so not Captain von Trapp here.) It's unnerving stuff from the Canadian actor.

The Silent Partner may lose some of its steam by the third act but overall it's a taut piece of writing. The work from Gould and Plummer is proof as to why they're often held in high regard in the acting community. (Oh, and be sure to see this during the Christmas season.)

My Rating: ****1/2


Ah, Christmas. A time of joy and togetherness. What's a better setting for a less-than-festive film than that? (Ah, the beauty of contrast.)

Joe Dante's Gremlins is the prime example of such a film. It has those many elements commonly found in those Steven Spielberg-produced titles of the 1980s. But does it stand up all these years (and many imitators) later?

In the thirty-two years of the film's existence, Gremlins has become as much of a Christmas tradition as It's a Wonderful Life. But boy, Dante is no Frank Capra. Gone are the heartwarming moments immortalized by the earlier film; here, they're substituted with hair-raising ones.

And as one watches Gremlins, they may wonder how in the hell this got away with a PG rating. Bear in mind this was before PG-13 was even an option (unsurprisingly it became one following this) so there must've been a whole generation of scarred children as a result. (As if Poltergeist didn't inflict enough damage two years prior...)

Gremlins is proof that Hollywood certainly didn't seem to care about the well-being of children following the emergence of New Hollywood. (Honestly, any random title from the previous decade slapped with a PG rating can attest to this.) But boy, you can see almost immediately why there were imitators not long after its release.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Wailing

There's something about foreign horror film that pack more of a punch. Is it because directors overseas how what audiences want overall? Whatever the reason is, they're just so damn better than what Hollywood tries to churn out as of late.

Na Hong-jin's The Wailing is one such film. Its 156-minute running time unravels slowly enough to make it deeply unsettling. But how does it compare to other titles of the genre? (Short answer: very well. Long answer: keep reading.)

Unsurprisingly with this being a horror film, The Wailing has its fair share of influences. The most telling of them is The Exorcist, what with their similar depictions of demonic possession and all. But what's shown here involves more of Asian culture as a whole. (Take note, Hollywood.)

After something of an ethereal nature happens in The Wailing, there's a heavy downpour of rain. To some, it might not seem like much; to those well-versed with cinema, however, something might ring familiar with them. That something is a line from Taxi Driver: "Someday a real rain will come and wash away all this scum off the streets."

The Wailing is one of those few films where its country's folklore isn't used for the sake of a bad punchline. (Let's be honest, this has happened in other horror films.) But Na shows his worth as a director to keep an eye on in the coming years. (You know what they say, third time's the charm. And Na isn't adverse to this.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Train to Busan

We've gotten a barrage of zombie movies ever since George A. Romero made it big with Night of the Living Dead. There's been those of varying qualities, certainly, but they incite thrills and entertainment regardless.

So where does Yeon Sang-ho's Train to Busan rank? It has a few elements found in recent zombie pictures (fast-moving creatures, survival of the fittest) but there's something else to it that makes it stand out. But what?

In the years since Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead, how does one present a subgenre of horror movies that's been -- excuse the pun -- beaten to death? But miraculously Yeon uses those expected tropes and revitalizes them. (Oh, and it's one of those zombie pictures so you've been warned.)

What Yeon does with Train to Busan is actually similar to what Edgar Wright did with Shaun of the Dead. (Come to think of it, that would make for a solid double feature.) It has attentive detail to the story's execution, using call backs effectively throughout its duration. (Certainly not something you'd find in pictures from Hollywood nowadays.)

Train to Busan could've easily followed the usual tropes associated with this type of picture but Yeon tries his damnedest not to do that. It doesn't always work some of the time but as a whole it stays consistent. It's true that a genre picture seldom works amongst a mixed audience but sometimes those few titles do stand out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Humphrey Bogart Blogathon

Samantha of Musings of a Classic Film Addict and Diana of Sleepwalking in Hollywood have teamed up for a blogathon on Humphrey Bogart. Long story short, I chose to write (to the surprise of no one familiar with my approach) about his three Oscar-nominated performances. Those films in question are:

(1943, dir. Michael Curtiz)
Lost to Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine
(1951, dir. John Huston)
(1954, dir. Edward Dmytryk)
Lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront

(More after the jump!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BOOK VS MOVIE: Fingersmith/The Handmaiden

There's always something dark lurking beneath composed demeanors. A warm smile can mask a cruel heart, Pure evil could be hiding behind the face of someone you trust.

It's worth mentioning that it's usually men that are cast in such a light. But who's to say those of the fairer sex have souls as pure as fresh-fallen snow? As we've seen with the likes of Gone Girl, they aren't all sugar, spice and everything nice. To quote Jane Austen's Persuasion, we none of us expect to be in smooth waters all our days.

Sarah Waters' Fingersmith follows such a woman, a petty thief coerced into becoming the maid for a wealthy heiress. What at first appears as a scheme to make off with the heiress' fortune slowly evolves into something much more deceptive in nature. (And if you're familiar with Waters' other work, you know what one thing will be expected.)

Updating the setting from Victorian Britain to 1930s Korea, Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden stays mostly true to Waters' novel. But how Park depicts the women's bond makes it clear that a straight man is at the helm. (Haven't we learned anything from the behind the scenes drama of Blue is the Warmest Color?)

It's clear that Waters and Park have different perspectives for the same story (Waters more diabolical, Park more sensual) but which of the two works is better overall? Both are sympathetic towards the women's connection (especially considering the time periods they're set in) but only more so with just one, which is the victor of the two.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Gentleman Jim

In the span of just a few years, Errol Flynn went from a complete unknown hailing from Australia to one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood. But after playing the swashbuckler who knows how many times, he wanted to show his audiences there was more to him.

One of the results was Raoul Walsh's Gentleman Jim where Flynn plays boxer James J. Corbett. Yes, he has the same amount of charisma he had for his collaborations with Olivia de Havilland but there's something more to Flynn's work here. (Could it actually be acting?)

Of course with this being a film about boxing, Gentleman Jim requires a lot of physicality from its leading man. And since he wanted realism, Flynn did his own stunts. Such exertion from him caused concern from leading lady Alexis Smith -- who was fully aware of Flynn's nights of debauchery -- but Flynn said thusly: "I'm only interested in this half. I don't care for the future." (Worth mentioning that Flynn had a minor heart attack during production.)

But as shown the previous year with They Died With Their Boots On, Walsh utilizes the talent within Flynn, something Michael Curtiz seldom tried to do with the leading man. It's no surprise that Flynn much preferred working with Walsh over Curtiz.

Gentleman Jim is a showcase for Flynn's talent, proving there was more to him than as the dashing leading man. It's almost a shame that Hollywood didn't give him more opportunities. But as least he got those few fleeting moments as a serious actor.

My Rating: ****

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon

Olivia de Havilland isn't the only the only legendary actor still around to celebrate their 100th birthday this year. There's also a lad from New York named Issur Danielovitch turning triple digits today. You may know him better by his screen name: Kirk Douglas.

To celebrate, Karen over at Shadows and Satin is hosting a blogathon. Usually for posts like these, I cover (if there are any) the Oscar-nominated performances of said subject. (Douglas himself is a three-time nominee.) But considering it was nigh impossible for me to find a copy of Champion on DVD, I decided instead to focus on a single film from Douglas' extensive career. Which one, you may ask?

(1957, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

While it's the next (and last) collaboration between Douglas and Kubrick that's more well-known, that doesn't render Paths of Glory as a film no one should see. (For Christ's sake, Kubrick is in the director's chair; that alone should warrant some level of interest.)

(More after the jump!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon

Crystal over at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting another blogathon, this time about actress Agnes Moorehead. (Coincidentally, she was born on this day back in 1900.) For my contribution for it, I decided to write about (perhaps to the surprise of no one) her Oscar-nominated performances. Moorehead was nominated four times throughout her career but she was always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Anyway, the movies she was nominated for are:

(1942, dir. Orson Welles)
Lost to Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver
(1944, dir. Tay Garnett)
Lost to Ethel Barrymore in None but the Lonely Heart
(1948, dir. Jean Neglusco)
Lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo
(1964, dir. Robert Aldrich)
Lost to Lila Kedrova in Zorba the Greek

More after the jump!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mrs. Parkington

Nobody ever said that marriage was a solid institution. Indeed fiction often covers the supposed joys of matrimony, many times the bitter side of the union getting more of the spotlight. But more often than not, there aren't always bad days between spouses.

Tay Garnett's Mrs. Parkington focuses on such a stormy union, this one between the modest Susie (Greer Garson) and the temperamental Augustus (Walter Pidgeon). Told primarily through flashbacks, the film chronicles how she went from a maid in a boarding house to a society matron. (And after seeing how Augustus regularly behaves, it's an uphill battle for Susie.)

Similar to what Garnett would do two years later with The Postman Always Rings Twice, he shows with Mrs. Parkington the differences between the sexes. Susie is someone of humble means whereas Augustus will flaunt his wealth at any given opportunity. But over time Susie's influence rubs off onto her husband.

Being the third of their eight films together, Garson and Pidgeon unsurprisingly have strong chemistry. Also of note is Agnes Moorehead, who basically steals every scene she's in. Ah, the 1940s: where actresses were finally getting their due.

Mrs. Parkington overall is a familiar yarn of films from that era but the work from Garson, Pidgeon and Moorehead make it worth seeking out. (The two women being nominated for their performances also helps.) Because honestly, how often did actresses back then get roles that weren't reduced to the obligatory love interest?

My Rating: ****


There's only a small handful of coming-of-age films that revolve around girls. We've seen enough stories of boys discovering the sordid world around them and how their bodies are changing. Just because the film industry is a male-dominated one doesn't mean those are the only stories that should be churned out.

Céline Sciamma's Girlhood is one of several recent titles to have girls at the forefront. Admittedly it follows the familiar "good girl gone bad" storyline but Sciamma does something different with it. But what exactly?

Girlhood follows Marieme (Karidja Touré) as she tries to find some meaning in her young life. Sciamma offers a more realistic depiction of how teenage girls interact. (Take that, male screenwriters!) After all, everyone doesn't communicate with different people the same way.

As she showed with her previous film Tomboy, Sciamma provides an unbiased portrait of how the protagonist lives their life. It's one of various ups and downs, one of good days and bad. (But isn't that life in general?)

Girlhood proves that Sciamma certainly knows how to capture the coming-of-age story. It's not always the type of story that's clean-cut nor is it one that everyone captures easily. But as she showed with Tomboy and this, Sciamma shows that she can depict the woes of youth. (Beat that, John Hughes.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Following the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis re-teamed two years later for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. (Joan Crawford was originally cast but was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.) But how does it compare to the more famous title?

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is more sinister than the earlier film in spots. But instead of Davis as the abuser, here she's the victim. (It is strange to see her in a more helpless situation.) However, her Charlotte Hollis has a shared trait with Jane Hudson: vainly grasping at days passed.

In fact, there are several connecting factors between Aldrich's two films besides their leading lady. Both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte recruit actors whose careers may not have been what they once were. (Okay, Agnes Moorehead being the sole exception because of Bewitched.) Perhaps that started the trend of star-studded pictures the following decade?

Back to that aspect mentioned earlier. Both Charlotte and Jane try to reclaim the past while at the same time slowly lose their grip on reality. (While Jane wants to be in the spotlight once more, Charlotte yearns for the days before her lover was brutally murdered.) But life just throws many curveballs at both of them.

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte shows that sometimes the best kind of horror doesn't always require blood, guts and gore to make it work. A little bit of gaslighting works just as well too. (Man, imagine how much more terrifying it would've been had Davis and de Havilland swapped roles?)

My Rating: ****1/2


The world we're a part of has very rarely been kind to those of the supposed "fair sex". Women have been subjected to the likes of discrimination, harassment and violence for centuries. And men continually expect them to adhere to conformity without a second thought?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang shows a rebellion amid the strict household the five sisters are trapped in. After displaying "promiscuous" behavior, they're quickly groomed to become suitable wives. But they're not going down without a fight.

Bear in mind that some of the sisters are being punished by proxy for two of their sisters' "disgraceful" behavior so most of the time they're wondering why they're being subjected to the same ordeal. But through the eyes of their guardians, this is just a way to teach them all a lesson.

Ergüven also shows with Mustang that sense of discovery within youth, how one begins to discover the world they're a part of. The girls learn (quite harshly) how important the concept of innocence (yes, in that regard) is in their society, something unfortunately quite common in patriarchies around the world. (When will we learn that a woman's purity isn't her defining characteristic?)

Mustang shows immense potential from Ergüven, proving the way of cinema's future is female. (You know it's true, admit it.) It (hopefully) won't be much longer before the pillars of patriarchy begin to crumble under their own poisonous ideals. (A bit far-fetched, maybe, but one can dream, can't they?)

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Johnny Belinda

We've seen this time and time again. One little rumor spreads and like wildfire, it inflicts a lot of damage on anyone too close. It's solid fodder throughout fiction, especially in melodrama. The effects, however, vary from story to story.

Jean Neglusco's Johnny Belinda follows such a premise. Bear in mind this was released in 1948, the Hays Code still very much in effect. So to no surprise it was met with controversy upon its release. But does it hold up all these years later?

Admittedly the way Belinda (Jane Wyman) is perceived by many of the townsfolk makes the film show its age (she's regularly called "the dummy" because she's deaf-mute). But it's the compassion from town doctor Robert (Lew Ayres) that gives the film its heart.

And it's the work from Ayres, Wyman, Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead that makes Johnny Belinda so effective nearly seventy years later. (After all, this was one of those few films to be nominated in all four acting categories.) They're all great but it becomes evident almost immediately how and why Wyman won.

Johnny Belinda has its fair share of melodrama (particularly in the final third) but overall it's a solid work. (Would you believe its director would go on to do How to Marry a Millionaire five years later?) It's the kind of picture that was acclaimed upon its release but is now all but forgotten. If there's a reason to seek it out, the main one is Wyman's performances. (She didn't win for nothing.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Three Colors: Red

There's a sense of finality in Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: Red. (It being his final film before retiring -- and subsequently his death in 1996 -- might have something to do with it.) It's as though he wants to maintain some closure before his time on this earth was no more.

The film follows Valentine Dussault (Irène Jacob) as she goes about with her day. With a possessive boyfriend waiting for her back in London, she tries to find a sense of independence. Then she meets retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintigant), and her life slowly changes.

What makes Three Colors: Red so interesting is its unassuming nature. We don't know what to expect from either Valentine or any of the other characters we're introduced to. It's that particular trait from Kieślowski that often ranks him as an unsung great in film.

And Kieślowski shows there's more to the film than it initially lets on. Three Colors: Red is through and through about that ever-present human need to connect. (The opening sequence best proves this claim.) Even when one claims they prefer being alone, they can ache for the care from someone else.

Three Colors: Red is one of those rare swan songs where it leaves the viewer satisfied yet leaves them wanting more. As Kieślowski had shown throughout his extensive career, he was interested in stories about the average human being's day-to-day life. Not those with fantastical elements or absurd plots; he just wanted to depict the world he saw with his own eyes.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, November 28, 2016

Three Colors: White

There are those who are basically a punching bag for the whole universe. They try and try and try but they can't escape life's punishments for them. (No one ever gets their fair shake of the stick.)

Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: White fits this character type to a T. After unwillingly getting divorced from Dominique (Julie Delpy), his life starts to crumble. In his attempts to re-claim his dignity, he goes down a morally ambiguous path.

In contrast with the previous film of this trilogy, Three Colors: White has a dark sense of humor towards Karol's suffering. (It would make Kafka feel pity for him.) But there's something else on focus in the film, something that might not immediately take notice.

Being made in the years after the Cold War's end, Three Colors: White is also an observation on Europe's economy at the time. Kieślowski shows how following the collapse of the Soviet Union, countries once in the tight grip of communist control now thrive. (Okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch but it's something to consider.)

While not as strong as its predecessor, Three Colors: White has its merits. As is often seen in fiction, the union between Karol and Dominique shows how a supposedly happy marriage is anything but. And as Kieślowski also depicts here, sometimes the tables are turned when one least expects it. (Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse; either way, it will affect their life.)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Colors: Blue

We all grieve in different ways. Some wallow in their pain, others behave as though nothing has happened. It varies from person to person naturally but it's still a very common occurrence in life.

Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors: Blue focuses on Julie (Juliette Binoche) following the deaths of her husband and young daughter. She tries to disconnect herself from the world afterwards but finds it's a task easier said than done. (No one ever said such a matter would be without its complications.)

Julie finds in her attempts to isolate herself, she ends up connecting more to those around her. There's a certain truth that one might try to reach out during a time of grief, hoping to find some comfort amid their pain. Again, it depends on the person but overall not everyone wants to be completely alone.

As Kieślowski previously showed with The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors: Blue finds a certain beauty in its simplicity. No desire for the melodramatics, no need for anything overwrought. All he wants the audience to see is how Julie's life has changed.

Three Colors: Blue examines the value of one's life both once it's over and when it's still ongoing. Kieślowski makes a film that's intimate without being intrusive. And being released the same year as many other prestigious productions like Schindler's List and The Remains of the Day, it shows that 1993 was one hell of a year when it came to depicting human emotion.

My Rating: *****

The Edge of Seventeen

High school is that time in one's life where everyone claims it'll change you. What they neglect to tell you is that it's seldom for the better. (And anyone who's recently survived those hellish four years can testify to that.)

Kelly Fremon Craig's The Edge of Seventeen is one of those rare films that capture teenage angst at its worst. From precarious infatuations to family feuds, it shows how the peak of one's youth has its share of ups and downs. (And boy, this'll bring back memories -- good and bad -- of those days.)

Starring in The Edge of Seventeen is Hailee Steinfeld, who made her big break several years ago in True Grit. Her career between the two films has been sporadic and not often her abilities were used probably to their fullest. But Craig manages to do just that.

But The Edge of Seventeen isn't just Steinfeld's show. There's also solid supporting work from Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick. Special mention, however, goes out to Hayden Szeto. (See, Hollywood? It is literally not that hard to have some diversity.)

The Edge of Seventeen is the kind of picture John Hughes wish he made. (It's true.) Steinfeld reminds her audiences how she wowed them six years prior with her Oscar-nominated work in True Grit. And here's hoping that both she and Craig have successful careers in store for them.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, November 24, 2016


It's nigh impossible to write about Denis Villeneuve's Arrival without giving away any crucial details about the film's premise. Yes, it's a fascinating film to watch (everyone has sung their praises many times over the last few weeks) but is it as faultless as others claim it is? Not really.

In stark contrast to some of Villeneuve's previous films like Prisoners and Enemy, Arrival has perhaps the first time since who knows when that a well-written female character is in a film by him. (And yes, this includes Sicario.) But even then there's flaws within the execution.

That's not to say Amy Adams wasn't right for the part. She's very good, no denying that. But perhaps an actress who's done their fair share of meatier roles probably would've been a better choice. (Speaking of which, Adams needs to find parts that have more meat to them.)

But what of Arrival itself? Indeed it has borrowed elements from Close Encounters of the Third Kind but overall its story seems to think it's smarter than it actually is. What at first seems to appear clever is actually half-executed in its attempts. And the more one thinks it over, the more convoluted its ideas become.

Arrival may seem initially to be the very thing needed in these trying times but in reality it's nothing more than your usual sci-fi yarn: focusing solely on what's happening on American soil, using a flimsy allegory to reference current events, and overall having an eyeroll-worthy conclusion. In all honesty, Villeneuve should probably start thinking about a different strategy for future films.

My Rating: ***1/2

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


What causes us as a society to behave the way we do? Do we get taught such beliefs through the nature we're brought up in or do we learn them on our own free will? And, most importantly, when should such opinions be spoken about to a mixed audience?

In light of recent events, Mick Jackson's Denial becomes worryingly prevalent in its depiction of hatred. (And its events take place not that long ago either.) Again, what causes someone to think such dark thoughts?

The primary focus of Denial is whether or not the Holocaust actually happened. (Not even kidding.) Despite insurmountable evidence (including those who survived such a monstrous ordeal), David Irving (a truly despicable Timothy Spall) is practically frothing at the mouth to prove such an atrocity never occurred. What's worse, some other might agree with him.

What's shown in Denial -- its portrayal of seething hatred -- is more frightening in light of the recent US election. How much prejudice has made headlines since the events of November 8, 2016? If there's one thing we as a society need to do, it's to find a sense of peace and equality amongst our species rather than contempt and discrimination.

Denial is good, thanks primarily to David Hare's script. The work from Rachel Weisz, Spall and Tom Wilkinson is also good, likewise with the supporting cast. (If only this wasn't released during a time of re-emerging hatred...)

My Rating: ****

The Dark Corner

Henry Hathaway's The Dark Corner seems to follow the familiar elements of film noir: lead character trying to escape criminal past, supporting characters with deceptive natures, things of that sort. But how does it weigh in with the greats of the genre?

The Dark Corner wasn't Hathaway's lone venture into film noir. (He would later go on to make the likes of Kiss of Death and Niagara.) As he shows here, he utilizes noir elements like shadows and backstabbing. But how well does he do it.

Admittedly Mark Stevens as the male lead feels somewhat off, lacking the charisma so needed for a genre like film noir. (Perhaps someone like Robert Mitchum would've been a better choice.) But having film noir regular Clifton Webb among the cast makes up for it somewhat. (As does having Lucille Ball as the leading lady.)

In a time where returning soldiers felt disillusioned by the world that physically and mentally destroyed them, they sought out those who shared the same jaded perspective as them. And The Dark Corner provided such a temporary sanctuary for these broken men. They saw an escape from a world not knowing how to heal them,

The Dark Corner isn't among the greats of the genre but it is good. Yes, Hathaway would hit his stride more with his later noirs but he did show his audiences what to expect from future titles. (And to be fair, there was a lot of noir being churned out that year.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Angel Face

After years of being under the thumb of the studio system, you could tell in some of his films that Otto Preminger wanted to break free. Indeed in the years to come he would regularly push the envelope with what the Hays Code would allow. But his films under the system don't become irrelevant, not in the least.

One such title from that time was Angel Face. Though not as well-known as Preminger's other famed noir Laura, it's still proof that noir was where he was his best. After all, he seemed to better grasp the psychology aspect of the genre.

Like Laura, Angel Face explores obsession but this one shows a more unhealthy depiction of it. When we first meet Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), it's clear that there's something off about her. And as Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) learns the hard way, it's best if one doesn't get close to her.

Of course having Mitchum is film noir is practically to be expected but it's Simmons who's an inspired bit of casting. No longer is she the proper English lady she played time and time again throughout her career. If only Hollywood gave her a chance by letting her play the femme fatale more often.

Angel Face is proof that Preminger was the premier back then for dark material. (He most definitely didn't give a damn what censors thought of his work; he wanted to shock his audience in a way different from Hitchcock.) He may be a mostly forgotten name nowadays but when you see a film by Preminger, it's very seldom one that'll be forgotten easily.

My Rating: ****

Friday, November 18, 2016

Doctor Strange

Imagine if you will a role played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays a man who doesn't shy away from bragging about his intellect (and earning a few adversaries in the process), displaying an insatiable hunger to learn more. Now which role was being described: his star-making turn on Sherlock or the titular character of Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange?

Admittedly there's a strong possibility that Cumberbatch was cast in Doctor Strange because of Sherlock. (There is the occasional allusion to the show throughout the film.) Yes, he is good at playing the arrogant genius, no doubt about that. (He got an Oscar nomination for such a role after all.) But does it warrant the whitewashing?

Oh, it's worth mentioning that said whitewashing isn't just with Cumberbatch's role but also with Tilda Swinton's. Yes, they are both good in their respective roles but does that excuse the refusal of casting actors of color in favor of two white British actors? Of course not. (And let's not begin with Marvel's bad track record with female characters.)

But enough of those discrepancies; let's focus on the positive from Doctor Strange. The humor throughout is touch different than previous Marvel entries, being more slapstick in some scenes. And those visual effects, holy smokes. This is one of those rare comic book movies where 3-D is a must. (Eat your heart out, Inception.)

Doctor Strange has some glaring mistakes here and there (mostly with some of the casting) but overall it's thoroughly entertaining. (Sounds hypocritical but it's the truth.) Coming from someone who doesn't think much of the superhero craze from recent years, this is a title you should see.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, November 13, 2016


There are these works that suddenly become more relevant in light of certain events. Most times those works are sought out following the deaths of their creators. But what of those titles that become much needed in tough times?

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight easily qualifies as one such film. After what both the black and LGBT+ communities have endured just this year alone, it's nice to see something that embraces both of them rather than ridicule them. In short, we need this film now.

Moonlight is also a breath of fresh air from other films of the LGBT+ subgenre. Apart from Pariah a few years prior, it's been a type of fiction that's been mostly monochromatic (read: white) from Hollywood. (At least television has been willing to depict interracial same-sex relationships.) We still have much to do before fiction becomes more accessible to the masses.

What Moonlight also shows is something most contemporary media tends to eschew: humanizing the black community. After who knows how many news articles branding victims of police brutality as "thugs", it's practically a breath of fresh air to see this. Jenkins does the complete opposite of what Hollywood regularly; he avoids the most blatant of stereotypes.

Moonlight is quiet in its brilliance, not needing the big dramatic speech to drive its point home. Jenkins presents a film that can be as universal as any generic film with white lead actors. (You know it's true.)

My Rating: *****


We never know what's going on in someone else's life. We may think we know the stresses they're encountering but even then the whole truth hasn't been revealed. What makes some people tick?

Antonio Campos' Christine (no association to the Stephen King work of the same name) is such a work to explore one's frame of mind. Based on events in Christine Chubbuck's (Rebecca Hall) final days, it's an unnerving glimpse into how far one will push themselves into self-destruction. But to what extent?

Chubbuck may not be that well-known of a name like Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite but to those in Sarasota, Florida, she was well-liked. But as shown in Christine, she has a bad habit of pushing herself as well as pushing others away from her. It's a constant struggle for her.

And Hall, who's generally underused in most of the projects she's in, gives her best work to date in Christine. She shows how conflicting Chubbuck's personality is: she craves affection but maintains a detached demeanor, she wants to make herself known but refuses to learn anything new for the job. Very rarely do we get female characters this layered and complex.

Christine is a captivating character study on this oft-forgotten woman. (Sometimes they don't always need to lead remarkable lives to be remembered years later.) And through Hall's stunning work, we get a dark glimpse into one's broken psyche. (Hopefully she'll get better offers because of this.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Steel Helmet

There are two types of war films: the ones more reliant on bloodshed and the ones more reliant on morality. Obviously it's those in the category that tend to stand out more to audiences, what with how the soldiers behave under duress. There's always been a morbid fascination towards living in fear for one's life.

Unsurprisingly there was a large flux of such works in the years after World War II, many of them penned by those who lived to tell their tales. One such name was Samuel Fuller, and it was his third film The Steel Helmet that put him on the cinematic map.

As would do with later films like Pickup on South Street and The Naked Kiss, Fuller shows with The Steel Helmet a good deal of grit. There's no denying there was a shift in storytelling following the end of World War II, and Fuller proved so as the Korean War raged on. He didn't want to make a sappy picture.

Similarly, much like his magnum opus The Big Red One, Fuller avoids all forms of bullshit for The Steel Helmet. (It's a war movie, damn it, not a soap opera.) He -- as well as several of the film's actors -- knew firsthand what war was like; they sure as hell don't want to sugarcoat their experiences.

The Steel Helmet makes for a solid character study as well as a war film. (What better way to show one's true colors than by putting them in a life or death situation?) It also showed Hollywood what to expect from Fuller, someone who actively tried to change the game. (He did.)

My Rating: ****1/2