Daily Archives: 18 October 2010

Monday Movie List ~ Films I’ve Seen in 2010, Part Five

The Band Wagon
The Band WagonMay 1, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
Because I’ve not seen many Fred Astaire films, I decided not to be picky with what I watched, assuming that most any film of his would be enjoyable. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that for The Band Wagon. The story seemed interesting at first, with Astaire playing an almost washed-up movie star who reluctantly joins two pals to put on a musical comedy for Broadway, but as the story progressed it simply didn’t hold my attention. By the midway point I was just ready to move on. I skipped through until the musical numbers appeared, and even then I didn’t care for some of them. Proving that all musicals are not created equal. And yet, Astaire and co-star Cyd Charisse are always fun to watch. I’m just sorry the entire film didn’t have the same appeal.

The Legend of Bagger Vance
The Legend of Bagger VanceMay 1, 2010 / TV broadcast
I never pass up an opportunity to revisit the story of Bagger Vance, a mysterious nomad who teaches a disillusioned golf pro how to recapture his game and restore the balance in his life. It’s one of my favorite Robert Redford films (despite his not actually portraying a character in the film), and I consider it one of both Matt Damon’s and Will Smith’s best performances. In fact, the entire cast is extraordinary, from Charlize Theron to Joel Gretsch as Bobby Jones. Watching the film brings a wonderful sense of calm, and it makes me want to learn golf in the worst way. I find the entire film beautiful, from cinematography to the minutiae, and I love it more each time I watch it.

SwimfanMay 4, 2010 / DVD Rental
I had no particular interest in this film about a high school swimming star and the crazy classmate who stalks him — not when it was released in 2002 and not at any point since then. But last year I discovered that Clayne Crawford had a role in the film, so I made a point to watch at least his scenes. In the end, that’s all I wanted to see. Swimfan held absolutely no appeal, so I simply watched Clayne’s scenes and skipped through the rest. Honestly, it’s a wonder to me how anyone could find this movie interesting. If I’d had no interest in the one actor, I’d have turned it off within the first half hour.

Pride & Prejudice
Pride & Prejudice (2005)May 15, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
The 2005 version of this film based on Jane Austen’s novel is by far my favorite. I did enjoy the Colin Firth series, of course, but it’s Keira Knightley who I feel best embodies Elizabeth Bennett, and that’s what makes the later version much more enjoyable to me. I also think Matthew Macfadyen is a perfect Mr. Darcy, and going forward I’ll always compare other Darcys to him. Each time I see this Pride and Prejudice I find it better than the last time, with more layers and more nuance and much more humor than I’ve seen before. Which is what makes a movie infinitely watchable.

Becoming Jane
Becoming JaneMay 15, 2010 / Starz
I first saw this film “based on the romantic life of Jane Austen” at the cinema back when Anne Hathaway was less a “star” and more an up-and-coming actress, but I had never seen her co-star James McAvoy before and found myself charmed immediately. And yet, when I came to know his work better, I couldn’t recall his performance in Becoming Jane. That’s the reason I decided to watch this film again, in fact. It’s not that I enjoy it that much, but rather I wanted to watch McAvoy this time more than the story. And it was worth it for that alone. I just wish the movie did a better job of convincing me that this Jane resembles the true Austen.

The Cincinnati Kid
The Cincinnati KidMay 15, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
It took me a while to make time for this classic about a young self-assured poker player determined to prove himself against a master of the game. Even as I made a concerted effort to see Steve McQueen’s films, I just didn’t find myself drawn to Kid. But it’s a great film full of great actors and great scenes. And though it’s definitely a film that dates itself in visual style, the eye is constantly drawn to McQueen. This is an essential McQueen movie to watch, and it’s a perfect example of the magnetism that made him a star.

War and Peace
War and PeaceMay 16, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
Despite finding Audrey Hepburn so enchanting, I have not seen many of her films. And until I began perusing her filmography, I had no idea that she starred in this epic based on Tolstoy’s novel. So I watched it. But I shouldn’t even be including it in this post because, for the life of me, I can’t remember a single detail of the movie. How is that possible? I watched a three-hour masterpiece and can’t recall one moment? Shameful.

Roman Holiday
Roman HolidayMay 16, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
I vividly remember this one, though. How could you not? Hepburn is at her best, the classic ingenue. This being her first film role, she’s perfectly fearless and fully immersed into her character of Princess Ann. And despite the age difference that was all-too-common in the old studio system, Gregory Peck and Hepburn are enchanting together, running around Rome pretending she’s not royalty. They are meant to be the stars, of course, but Rome is just as much a key player of the film. Even in black and white, the city is breathtaking. Which makes the film a joy to watch, each and every time.

Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball
Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ BallMay 18, 2010 / DVD Rental
There is nothing good in this movie. It’s a weak sequel, hyper-violent, profane, loose on plot and even slimmer on character, but in keeping with my habit of renting movies for a single beloved actor, I checked out this terrible film because my beloved Clayne Crawford had a rare lead role. I never actually planned to watch the movie (and I didn’t), but I did hope that Clayne was at least enjoyable. Instead, he was hilarious… but often I was amused when the scene wasn’t meant to be funny. His look alone was reminiscent of Colonel Sanders, and his mannerisms were quirky, at best. He, and the entire movie, became more and more ridiculous as the time clicked by, and at the end I was never so ready to see a final scene. The movie is truly awful, but I did find joy in Clayne when I stopped taking any of it seriously. So I guess that’s something.

Ransom! (1956)May 27, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
One of my favorite films of all time is Mel Gibson’s Ransom, but until just recently I had no idea it was a remake of an earlier film. So I checked out the original for comparison. The two films begin very much the same, and a lot of the story follows the same path of a father’s efforts to rescue his son from a kidnapper, but for me, the 1956 version really doesn’t hold a candle to the later film. The suspense is missing and the ending is truly anti-climactic. The only good thing I can say about the original is that the basic story is still as good and Glenn Ford is terrific, as always. But I’ll always recommend the remake. It’s just a much more enjoyable film.

TapsMay 29, 2010 / American Movie Classics
There is a collection of films from my adolescence that mostly define the decade, and Taps can easily be placed in that category for its cast alone. This story of military academy cadets who go to extremes to save their school features the finest actors of my generation… before we realized they would become our finest actors. Timothy Hutton is the core of the film, the one actor who was expected to be legendary, but Sean Penn is also phenomenal and Tom Cruise was simply a great character actor at the time. The cast list goes on and on with names who were new then and are very familiar now, which is what makes Taps such a pleasure to watch today. It’s a powerful film that hasn’t lost its impact over the years, and seeing it again reminds me of the great potential these actors had, even at the beginning of their careers.

The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty DozenMay 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
It should be obvious by now that my love of classic films doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve seen that many of them. And movies centering around war and the military are always among the least of my interests, so I never made a point to watch The Dirty Dozen because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t in that same genre. But my dad always mentioned how much he enjoyed it, so I finally took the time to sit down with it, where I discovered that it’s a story of prison inmates who are trained to carry out a secret military mission. Along the way, they find their true natures to be far different from the lives they were leading before. I had no idea that this was the story, and I found that I loved it. It’s funny! Why didn’t I know it was funny? Plus, as always, there are so many actors in the early days of their careers, which makes it so much more enjoyable. Charles Bronson, in fact, was the biggest surprise, as I’ve never known him to be anything other than a tough guy vigilante. By the end of the film I found myself caring about every character and cheering during the final act. I never expected that in a million years.

Gangs of New York
Gangs of New YorkMay 29, 2010 / TV broadcast
I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis, but I have always been a fan of Leo DiCaprio, so Gangs of New York was eternally on my list of movies to watch. That it took me so long to get around to it is simply laziness and never being in the right frame of mind. It always seemed a specific type of film, this story of rival Irish gangs in 19th century New York City, and I felt that I needed to have a certain level of preparedness in order to enjoy it. But actually, all of those presumptions proved incorrect. It’s actually a terrific character drama with an epic setting, wherein DiCaprio seeks to have revenge on Day-Lewis’s gang leader for the murder of his father many years before. This is DiCaprio’s film with memorable moments by Daniel Day-Lewis. And I didn’t even mind watching Cameron Diaz, which is quite rare for me. It took no time at all for me to fall in love with the movie and the story and the characters and the setting. I expect I’ll want to revisit Gangs a lot throughout the rest of my life.

NotoriousMay 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
My friend Cerella tasked me with watching the films of Ingrid Bergman, believing that I would certainly begin to see what makes Bergman so deserving of her icon status. I’ve seen a few films and haven’t been greatly impressed with her, I must admit. But then came her film with Cary Grant for Hitchock. And I’ve finally begun to understand her appeal. As a young woman shackled by alcoholism and recruited by a government agent (Grant) to spy on friends who are known to be Nazis, Bergman is at once untethered and high-strung. She’s beautiful and sad and paranoid, all of which Bergman plays perfectly. And she effortlessly floats between her emotions, allowing Grant to be the weight that keeps her grounded from scene to scene. Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s best though it was made before films became “Hitchcockian,” and even a sudden and unexpected ending can’t detract from the greatness of this film. It simply hits all the right notes. And it’s begun to change my mind about Bergman.

Stage Door
Stage DoorMay 29, 2010 / Turner Classic Movies
This particular film has been on my “must watch” list for years and years, yet always slightly outside my purview when I chose to catch up with Katharine Hepburn movies. But I’ve always wanted to see it for the story alone: young women living together in a boarding house as each tries to get that big break on Broadway. Within the first few minutes the tone is set; a roomful of women gossip and chatter, all at once and at lightning speed. It’s so much simultaneous commentary that even I got a bit lost at first. But then my ear began tuning in to specific voices and I realized that quite a few of them were very familiar. Eve Arden is always easy to pick out of a crowd, though I can’t recall ever seeing her in her younger years. And there was another voice that seemed so familiar but slightly different than what it should be. And the woman’s face — the very young woman’s face — wasn’t instantly recognizable to me either. But I listened closely and zeroed in until it finally hit me: Lucille Ball. The youngest I’ve ever seen her (and with blonde hair!), though her voice still had almost the same quality as her later years when I came to know her as Lucy Ricardo. What made her voice a little unfamiliar was its youth; at this stage in her career her voice lacked the timbre of her later years. Still, it was there just enough that I recognized her, and that made this film even more enjoyable. There are a lot of women in the movie, including Ginger Rogers, and each is as beautiful and talented as the next. The house is literally filled with great comic ability, but all that’s really important is just watching these women work onscreen. For all the reasons I disliked The Women, they were exactly what made Stage Door so enjoyable.
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