Alice In Wonderland
— June 7, 2010 | DVD Rental
First word of this adaptation by Tim Burton was all I needed to get excited, especially upon hearing that Johnny Depp would play the Mad Hatter. It all seemed perfect! And then I learned it would be shown in 3-D, and while I’m not a proponent of the format (and would rather filmmakers limit their usage to those films that truly deserve the effect), I felt that Alice
could actually benefit from the technique. I never quite got around to seeing it in the cinema, mostly because those who went before me were not impressed with the film nor with its 3-D imagery. When people I trust tell me it’s okay to save the money and wait for DVD, I happily oblige. And they’re rarely wrong in their first impressions. The problems with Alice
are not with the story but with the presentation of the story. I could embrace the usage of both Alice stories
to create a richer tale, and I could accept not seeing my favorite characters as I like to recall them (from previous films of the subject). My struggle came in the tone of the film and darker colors that didn’t allow Wonderland to pop
onscreen. Had I been viewing the film through 3-D glasses I would’ve been utterly disappointed in the look of the film, for it was already muted without the added shadow of those horrid glasses. And that, to me, is the greatest shame of Burton’s version. He could have made it visually spectacular. And he could’ve done that without forfeiting his vision. But he chose to drag everything down in tone, in color, in the sadness of characters. Which simply made the film a drag in itself. The only salvation, for me, was Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. Dee-lightful! I continue to quote the pig line
All That Jazz
— June 12, 2010 | American Movie Classics
This was not my first viewing of All That Jazz
but it was the first time I really paid close attention to the story. Before, I had always focused on the dance, on the brilliant choreography of Bob Fosse, but I never actually realized what I was watching in the story. Or perhaps I never actually watched the story? This time I was focused on the plot as much as theatricality, and I was surprised to see it was an autobiographical statement by Fosse himself. It’s a depressing film, and yet, in the midst of such a story about one man’s steady decline toward death (set to Broadway numbers, no less), it features artistic greatness. Which is how the film endures, I suppose. Life imitating art imitating life. Within a true 1970s setting.
— June 12, 2010 | TV Broadcast
The more I see this film, the more I find its nuanced humor. There are levels of it, in fact, that are not obvious on just one or two viewings. But after a few it becomes clear how terrific this film is and how terrific John Cusack is in the lead role. It’s tailor-made for him, of course, with various monologues directed to the viewer and long-winded speeches that come across as little more than self-indulgent ramblings, but in Cusack’s hands it’s always charming. There are many familiar faces throughout the film — Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor play ex-girlfriends, Jack Black plays a best friend, Tim Robbins is a sleazy nemesis — but none give so rich a performance as Lisa Bonet
playing one of Cusack’s lovers. She is sublime. And no matter how many times I watch the film, it is her character that comes back to me again and again. Which is also what makes me return to the film itself.
The 60s miniseries
— June 14, 2010 | TV Broadcast
I wouldn’t search out this TV miniseries from 1999, but whenever I come across it I am temporarily mesmerized. The story always pulls me in, whether through Jerry O’Connell’s Vietnam-era soldier or Josh Hamilton’s political activist or, most often, Julia Stiles’ wayward flower child. It’s a brisk look at the decade, to be sure, and just glosses over most of it, but it’s still a fascinating introduction for those of us who did not live through the times. I always find one or more events to read up on after seeing them mentioned in the series. I also enjoy seeing so many actors in the series that I had either forgotten or whom I didn’t know on the last viewing. Jeremy Sisto is memorable as a radical activist, but for some reason I never associate him with the miniseries itself. I do, however, remember that longtime favorite Marc Blucas
appears, but I’m always surprised to only see him in two or three scenes. But they are not the reason I love this series; it’s Julia Stiles
who captivates me here. And the cinematic treatment of the era. For that, I find it worth revisiting time and again.
— June 16, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
With all the love I have for Katharine Hepburn, it has taken me quite some time to come around to her partner, Spencer Tracy. Even watching them together onscreen, the supposed tell-all in their relationship, hasn’t brought me to appreciate him or embrace him as much more than a studio player at a time when these kinds of men were enjoyable to audiences. He’s always so curmudgeonly, and that has never appealed to me. But in Without Love
, Tracy’s World War II-era scientist is quirky and endearing as he takes up residence in the basement of a widow, played by Hepburn, who is simply trying to leave her large residence behind and move forward with her life. Instead, she becomes intrigued with the scientist and eventually serves as his assistant on a top secret project for the military. There is great humor, great comedy along the way, especially in the matter-of-factness of their relationship, and even when the two decide to marry it is simply for convenience and nothing more. But love does come, and whereas the humor is so grand between Tracy and Hepburn, the sweet romance is equally palpable. I finally came to see what Tracy possessed and why their pairing was so revered. There is also a minor character played by a young, vivacious Lucille Ball, and she so charming and so memorable that I found myself wanting more of her. For a movie I’d never previously heard of, Without Love
turned out to be a very charming film.
— June 16, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
On the same night I discovered my affection for Spencer Tracy, I was also reminded of the grace and attractiveness of Fred MacMurray in his younger years. My first experiences with MacMurray were The Shaggy Dog
and The Absent-Minded Professor
, so I never saw him as a romantic lead. But little by little that perception has changed, from Double Indemnity
and The Apartment
to Alice Adams
, where I have been able to see how affecting he could be. As suitor to Katharine Hepburn’s Alice he is just charming enough to understand why she goes to such lengths to be something she is not. Alice spends the entire story pretending to fit in with a higher class of society, pretending she attends the same parties and knows the same people and walks in the same social circles as the debutante class of her city. The stage for this charade is set early on as Alice works her way into a societal dance, using her brother as a date, and then proceeds (with great comedy) to proclaim her “status” to everyone in earshot. It’s funny for a moment and then incredibly sad after that. And the entire film continues in that vein, culminating in a disastrous dinner party thrown by Alice in which she forces all members of her family to play along. Hepburn is perfectly wonderful in the role of Alice, using her quirky mannerisms and awkwardness to flesh out Alice’s ruse, but the film is pretty thin beyond her performance. I loved it throughout the first half, but by the end I was tired of playing through the game with her.
Ring of Deceit
— June 20, 2010 | Lifetime Movie Network
It always amazes me how many seemingly successful actors show up in Lifetime movies, and then I have to remember that everyone has to pay the rent. I suppose, outside that class of women who live and die by Lifetime, it’s people like me who keep those actors in business. For I usually follow actors I like to whatever movie they choose to do, so long as I don’t have to pay out of pocket for the privilege. Such is the case with the next two movies I saw in June. Ring of Deceit
featured Cameron Bancroft, an actor I enjoyed on a single series years and years ago
but never saw anywhere again, and Rebecca Mader, of Lost
fame. She played an art expert attempting to solve the mystery of a stolen artifact, and he, naturally, was the charming suitor who seemed an obvious suspect. I won’t even discuss the movie, as it’s predictable and tidy and sappy and silly in all the ways every Lifetime movie seems to be when I watch, but I will say that even the actors annoyed me in their roles. After 20 minutes all I wanted to know was whodunnit. I watched almost the entire movie in skip forward mode. Interestingly, though it was so terrible I felt compelled to turn it off, I actually never did. I still wanted to learn the culprit. I was really that bored. Perhaps that’s how Lifetime movies continue to be so popular?
— June 24, 2010 | Lifetime Movie Network
This second Lifetime entry, which you’ll notice from the later date that I planned
to watch, starred Nicholas Lea… Krycek, to all us X-Files fans. I watch for him all the time but see him less and less. My salvation in this particular movie is that he was the nefarious suitor (are there any new stories in the Lifetime universe?) and he was wooing Sherrilyn Fenn, of Twin Peaks
fame, in an effort to locate stolen money stored away by her deceased husband. I actually managed to sit through this entire movie until the last few scenes, which involved a ridiculous slow-moving chase outside a house window, and while it was romantic fluff with absolutely no edge whatsoever, I still enjoyed seeing Lea play a character he does well. Not the worst way to spend some free time.
Dances With Wolves
— June 26, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about Dances With Wolves
. I enjoy re-watching it every so often just to find new small elements that I may have overlooked in the past and to see actors that I may have come to appreciate since the last viewing. But the story always impacts me, the emotions are always the same for me: I laugh and cry and cheer and become irritated at the same exact scenes each time, and I always find myself so saddened at the history of my country and our treatment of the native peoples. Whether strictly accurate or not, Wolves
is still a beautiful film with a strong reminder not to forget our past and not to repeat it. And I love that most of all.
To Catch A Thief
— June 28, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
I’d been searching for this Cary Grant film on television for a long while and had even recorded it a few times but deleted later to free up space, so this year is my first viewing of this Hitchcock classic. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it as a priority like other classics I’d been putting off, but now that I’ve seen Thief
it will be on my go-to list in the future. I loved Grant in middle age, and I loved his interplay with Grace Kelly (someone I need to devote a little more time to, I admit), but most of all I loved the feel
of the movie. The story of a retired cat burglar attempting to clear his name of copycat crimes is classic Hitchcock, of course, and it’s a formidable mystery until the end. And the end features one of the most iconic scenes in cinema, a tense chase across a rooftop that eventually reveals the truth about the thief. The film is a classic in every sense of the word. And I loved it!
— June 28, 2010 | Turner Classic Movies
I attempted to watch this film about individual dramas of the patrons of Berlin’s Grand Hotel a couple of times before finally being able to settle into it. While I love films from the late 30s and 40s, sometimes the earlier ones don’t hold my attention as well. There was something sharper, less languid in later films that isn’t always present in their predecessors, and I often don’t have patience to sit with those earlier dramas without some kind of hook to reel me in quickly. Such was the case with Grand Hotel
. There is much setting-up of story and character at the beginning, and very few of the characters were interesting enough to draw my attention. I initially gave the movie one more chance after noticing Joan Crawford’s name in the cast (having promised Cerella
that I would watch Crawford’s films without pre-judgement), but I found myself staring right at her for several scenes before even recognizing it was Crawford. I suppose I had an image in mind that didn’t fit with what I saw here. But she was also practically the only light in this story. Her “stenographer-slash-mistress” to a German businessman is sharp-tongued but sweet and a romantic at heart, and her flirtation with John Barrymore’s secretly-bankrupt baron is the joy of the film. Until we meet Greta Garbo, that is, as a temperamental ballet dancer in the final act of her career. When she is wooed by Barrymore, the film begins to truly have heart. Which is odd, since the baron’s initial intentions toward her are not legitimate. And I suppose that’s what makes this film better in the end than it seemed at the start. It’s multilayered and filled with charming performances by acclaimed actors. I’m happy to say I’ve finally seen it, but honestly, I doubt I’ll ever make plans to see it again unless someone else brings it up.
Man on Fire
— June 30, 2010 | American Movie Classics
With all of the films I see each year, the reality is that I won’t often make an effort to watch a specific film after its initial release period unless it continues to float around my mind. Back in 2004, I had no real interest in Man On Fire
despite having no doubt it was a very good film. And once the initial publicity waned, I never thought of it again. Until I began to see it on television a few years ago. And then my parents saw it and praised it highly. And then a friend saw it recently and praised it again. So I finally had my chance, and, as I suspected, I also loved it as much as they did. But how could I not? Denzel Washington plays a former CIA assassin contracted as a bodyguard to protect a Latin businessman’s daughter during a rash of kidnappings in Mexico City. Washington’s hard-nosed, jaded protector is softened over time by his charge, played with such strength by Dakota Fanning, and when she also becomes victim of kidnappers, he vows vengeance upon everyone involved. The entire film lies upon Washington’s character, and he is magnanimous. He has little dialogue through much of the film, and you realize that you are actually learning more about him without the dialogue than you ever might if he spoke. By the end, there is a nice little twist that truly caps the film successfully. Man On Fire
is one of those movies that will stay with you forever.
My Blueberry Nights
— June 30, 2010 | Independent Film Channel
Running across this film by accident, all I could remember was its featuring of Norah Jones in the lead role and that I had always heard great reviews. As I watched I remembered everything else that made me want to see it. Judy Law, Rachel Weisz, David Straithairn. And the story of love lost, redemption sought, friendships made, and love found. My Blueberry Nights
is the kind of film that must be viewed without much knowledge of its story. It has a languid feel that is matched by the soundtrack and the cinematography and the subtle interaction between Law and Jones at the beginning of the film. The building of their friendship actually sets the tone for everything that comes after, and up until the last third of the film (and subsequent entrance of Natalie Portman), that tone is what makes the film so special. An impromptu road trip with Portman’s character nearly ruined the film for me, but in the end there was salvation by a returned focus to Jones’s character and the relationships that had come before. This is a sweet film, for the most part, in the midst of unsavory circumstances.