Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Two Weeks in Another Town

The opening moments of Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town shows Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas) walking around the grounds of the sanitarium that's been his home for some time. Once a big movie star, now nobody would touch him with a ten-foot pole. Well, except for director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), and even that isn't without its own melodrama.

Temperamental actors, a movie going overbudget and way past schedule, snarled romances, and feuds on set and off. These are the things plaguing both Jack and Maurice in Two Weeks in Another Town. Jack's ex-wife Carlotta (Cyd Charisse) -- who was responsible for landing him in the sanitarium -- tries to seduce him back while Maurice's wife Clara (Claire Trevor) spends most of her time screaming at her husband. No wonder they're the way that they are.

This isn't the first time Minnelli and Douglas tackled Hollywood; in the previous decade, they had made The Bad and the Beautiful. (Snippets of the earlier film are shown as a previous work of Jack's.) But in comparison with the two, Two Weeks in Another Town is decidedly less jaded in depicting behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

And seeing as how their last two films resulted in Oscar nominations for Douglas, it would make sense to see if the third time's the charm. But in contrast to The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life, it's not as focused on the story at hand. (Though Robinson and Trevor's scenes are an interesting reversal of their roles in Key Largo.)

Two Weeks in Another Town may not be quality Minnelli but it does have its good points. (Its running time is not one of them.) His films with Douglas are an underappreciated collaboration, making one wonder what it'd be like had it been a regular teaming...

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It Should Happen to You

Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) hasn't had the best day at the start of George Cukor's It Should Happen to You. She just lost her modelling job due to a slight shift in her measurements, and now she's despondent at losing her chance at becoming a somebody. Then she sees some available billboard space, and an idea pops into her head.

As she proved with her previous collaborations with Cukor, Holliday is the star of It Should Happen to You. Making the ditzy (not dumb) blonde her noted role, Holliday precedes Marilyn Monroe in making the character type her own. And no one could get the best of that character out of her than Cukor. (Just watch Adam's Rib or Born Yesterday.)

Also of note in It Should Happen to You is Jack Lemmon in his first major film role. As he would later show with his Billy Wilder collaborations, his Pete Sheppard keeps a can-do spirit despite being the universe's human punching bag. You just can't help but root for him.

In this day and age of people getting famous for the most menial of things, It Should Happen to You seems almost quaint. Of course those involved (Cukor, Holliday, Lemmon, Peter Lawford, et al.) aren't around to witness fiction becoming reality. (Lord only knows what it'd be like had they lived long enough to see the age of the internet.)

It Should Happen to You is deeply charming, which is something to be expected when Holliday and Lemmon are involved. Being released the same year as On the Waterfront and Rear Window (and Cukor's own A Star is Born), it's a nice breather from the heavier titles that year. (Is it ever wrong to go for Cukor as a pick-me-up?)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Ghost Story

What is there after it's all over? It's been speculated for centuries what happened when someone dies, if there's anything in the hereafter. Does heaven actually exist or does reincarnation? Or is there nothing waiting for us in the end?

David Lowery's A Ghost Story explores what waits for us in the hereafter. Following the bedsheet-clad spirit of a man (Casey Affleck), we watch as he stands idly by in his home as his wife (Rooney Mara) tries to cope with the loss. But there's more to the story Lowery has presented.

In a way, A Ghost Story is similar to Affleck's previous film Manchester by the Sea in their depictions of life and its hardships. It's true that you can't expect everything to be either in your favor or to stay the same. Everything in life has to change, it's natural order. To expect routine is impossible.

Also explored in A Ghost Story is how you'll be remembered when you're gone. (In fact, there's a segment in the film that focuses on that very thing.) That's why so many people want to become famous in some way: to know that they're not forgotten.

A Ghost Story is a deeply meditating (and equally depressing) piece of work. It will linger in your mind long after it's over, making one contemplate their own worth and meaning in life. (But boy, you're going to be making -- and eating -- a lot of comfort food afterwards.)

My Rating: ****1/2

The Little Hours

A few lines into Jeff Baena's The Little Hours, and its general mood is quickly established. What initially is perceived as something along the lines of The Nun's Story turns into a raunchier version of The Devils. (No, seriously.)

Then again, when the likes of Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Dave Franco make up part of the cast for The Little Hours, the outcome is perhaps inevitable. Sure, we've seen a number of profanity-laden sex romps over the last few years but there's something here that makes it funny. (Maybe because it's primarily set at a convent?)

We've seen a number of films pertaining to pious folk throughout the years, their level of devotion varying from title to title. Whether they hold the Bible close to their chest or slowly break each of the Ten Commandments, it's women that are more scrutinized for their behavior. (Can you say "double standard"?)

Similarly, the matter of women's sexual urges is another theme explored in The Little Hours. It always seems to be when they're in a situation where acting on them would result in societal scolding that such desires are amplified. Is this something men commonly think how women honestly behave when they're frustrated in that sense? (If so, the concept of self-pleasure must be foreign to them...to an extent.)

The Little Hours is funny in spots but it's rather misogynistic as a whole. (Generally, if someone vows to serve God, wanting to get laid should be at the very end of their list.) But hey, apparently this is the path comedy is going down as of late. (Why that is, it's hard to properly explain.)

My Rating: ***1/2

Friday, September 1, 2017


World War II is often a go-to source for media both fictional and factual. Sometimes those involved in these projects were also participants of the many battles, other times it's from those who did extensive research. Either way, there's been a barrage of them ever since the fighting's conclusion over seventy years ago.

With Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, he explores what happened after the Battle of France and the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the benches of the titular French commune. Using three perspectives of the events (and using his now-familiar non-linear storytelling), he depicts a non-glorified re-telling of history. But how well does he do it?

Nolan recruited only three of his regular actors (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine) for Dunkirk, the rest of the cast being made up of established actors and relatively fresh faces. Was this aspect a deliberate decision on Nolan's part? Perhaps, but as his previous films showed, he's more interested in the story rather than those responsible for acting it out. (Okay, The Prestige possibly being the lone exception.)

But Dunkirk isn't only Nolan's shining achievement; many of the technical aspects make the film what it is. The combination of Hans Zimmer's score and Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography make for a claustrophobic pairing. (That's a good thing, mind you.) And like Saving Private Ryan before it, it'll take your breath away.

Dunkirk is probably Nolan's best film to date, showing that there's obviously more to him than star-studded CGI-heavy productions. It's perhaps the most human of his career, and hopefully he'll do more films of a similar nature. (But maybe on a smaller scale.)

My Rating: *****