I'm in a movie-watching mood lately, and with HBO, all the Starz channels, and all the "regular" movie channels like AMC, TCM, and FMN, not to mention the gems that sometimes pop up on TBS, I've found a lot to watch.
Then again, sometimes I just watch whatever is on next, and that leads to interesting juxtapositions.
So here's the list, from Friday evening:
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Typical Will Ferrell. Some parts hilarious, some parts embarrassingly over the top. I'd say this movie insults all the usual victim groups but it ignores blacks, so I guess it doesn't. The ethnic minority of choice here was Hispanics. There were some great visual spoof/homages; my favorite was the post-rumble shot from West Side Story.
The Turning Point
While I totally agree with this guy, I'm still glad to see that this gets a whopping 86% recommendation at RottenTomatoes. You have to love ballet to like this movie. If you can't stand ballet, then just fast-forward to the terrific fight scene between Ann Bancroft and Shirley Maclaine. That one scene garnered them both Academy Award nominations, and they deserved them. The rest of it is laughably bad, except the ballet. The ballet (you'll excuse the expression) rocks. Baryshnikov is astounding. It's nearly miraculous watching a human can get that high off the floor without a trampoline or other mechanical assistance.
I'd Climb the Highest Mountain
This Susan Hayward vehicle was next up in the schedule after "The Turning Point" so I watched it. She plays a city girl who marries a minister who is serving in rural Georgia just after the turn of the century, and they endure a number of hardships. The movie provides remarkable historical perspective, portraying a minister as a positive, exceedingly decent character without a shred of post-modern cynicism. These were people sustained by faith, in a simple yet engaging story. They don't make 'em like this anymore because they're afraid no one will come, or perhaps just because the producers just laugh at the scripts and toss 'em. But I think there is still a big market for stories about ordinary people surviving extraordinary circumstances.
Dana Wynter stars as a German girl in post-WWII occupied Germany, Mel Ferrer as the American captain who first meets her as an escaping POW, and later as a member of the team working on the reconstruction. She's gorgeous even when she's grubby, and it's funny seeing a woman as refined and cultured as she is working as dunk-tank girl in beer hall -- but that's better than being a prostitute, and a choice she made quite easily. I really enjoyed this both for the glimpse at the Occupation and for the character story. She really is too good to be true, but that's OK. Ferrer's American is such a decent guy he's a good match for her, but it takes her quite a while to believe that.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Finally got around to seeing this and I concur with the general critical acclaim. I'm a big fan of Charlie Kaufman so that wasn't a surprise. What did surprise me was how appealing Jim Carrey was. I guess he really can act! Who knew? Usually we just get Jim Carrey, and who wants to watch that? (See: Robin Williams) Anyway, I liked it. Kirsten Dunst's character made me sad.
The Great Raid
This is getting trashed by the critics, which is totally understandable to me. The script has a few incredibly hokey parts, for example, when faced with writing an unwritable letter: I don't know where to begin. -- How about, "Dear..."
I mean, c'mon, guys! Is that the best you could do? I don't think so, especially when everything else -- from the casting to the direction and the story, the story! It's a great story. But the weaknesses in the script give reviewers something to bash so they don't have to focus on how great the rest of the movie is. It does move a little slowly, but I found that to be appropriate. And I thought the casting was terrific -- no one really stands out as the star, and you get the sense that this was an effort in which all the pieces played a crucial role in pulling the whole thing off.
The other thing this movie will probably get trounced for is its depiction of the inhuman behavior of the Japanese towards the American POWs and Filipinos. I knew about the Japanese atrocities before, but I don't think I've ever seen them so realistically portrayed. I know that's going to bother a lot of people, but they have to remember that what is shown here is neither a distortion nor an exaggeration. It's a timely reminder: our current enemy has made a similar point of declaring all enemies less than human, and therefore fit for extermination. We must set our expectations of them accordingly.
Overall, I liked the movie while recognizing its flaws. I'm more than willing to forgive them.
The 39 Steps
I'm continuing my Hitchcock education. This movie totally rocked! It was great to see the MacGuffin in action. It is easy to see why Hitch is so revered.
My first Tim Burton movie, and my first exposure to Johnny Depp, lo these many years ago. Still tugs at the heartstrings, too. The visual design of this movie still blows me away, and all the topiary and hair styles are outstanding. (Some are outstandingly weird, but still outstanding.) What caught my attention on this viewing was Anthony Michael Hall playing the creepy boyfriend. It was a jarring experience since I had earlier watched The Dead Zone in which I find his character very appealing. Anyways, *sigh* I love Edward.
To Sir, With Love
Sydney Poitier teaching life lessons to a bunch of teenage English toughs, circa 1967. Completely charming, but Poitier's dancing in a penultimate scene is cringe-inducing (at least to me). But then again, he's playing a stiff, so I suppose he's only acting like a bad dancer? I'm sure that's what it is. This is a great movie, and I completely agree with Mr. Thackery's methods and curriculum.
I also watched good chunks of Misery and How to Marry a Millionaire, but not enough to really count them. The first I abandoned because it was on a commercial network, and I couldn't deal with the breaks, the second because the plot was turning my stomach -- I wasn't in the mood for that particular brand of misogynistic comedy. And it is a mood thing, really -- I've enjoyed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes any number of times. Maybe it's just that Jane (not Rosalind, oops!) Russell is a better foil for Marilyn Monroe than Lauren Bacall is. Betty Grable's fine in "Marry", but Bacall is just too cultured and stiff. The differences between Bacall and the Monroe-Gable duo made their supposed friendship unbelievable to me, whereas Russell and Monroe had great chemistry as buddies. But then again, "Gentlemen" is played for many more laughs than "Marry" is. Guess I'll just continue to miss that one.
As for Misery, it's a great movie, and both James Caan and Kathy Bates are fantastic in it. Another example of how the best movie adaptations of Stephen King's works are from his straight fiction stock. See also: Dolores Claiborne, The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand by Me (still haven't seen this one, I'm embarrassed to admit).
The only one of these that I watched before 9PM was The Great Raid. You can see I've been going a bit short on sleep. And now I've spent a huge amount of time on this post when I've got a column due. Onward!