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things that are awesome :: Katharine Hepburn films

Each week The Bumbles Blog posts a movie-themed question that always makes me think a bit but rarely stirs enough to create a full blog post in response. But this week… oh, this week I have to respond. The topic is: Share your favorite moments, memories or films featuring Katharine Hepburn. Since the Great Kate is my all-time favorite actress, it’s imperative that I expound upon it.

To the best of my memory, my introduction to Katharine Hepburn came in 1981 with On Golden Pond. I was a mere 12 years old when I saw the film with my parents at the cinema, and I had yet to discover Ms. Hepburn in films but was well-aware of her legend. I knew Jane Fonda very well by then, and was more familiar with Henry Fonda than Hepburn, but I remember that Kate intrigued me with her character’s sunny disposition and with her own innate grace. It would be a few more years before I discovered Hepburn’s true greatness and had a chance to dive into her body of work, but I remembered her name and her face (and her distinctive voice and signature style) from the moment I first saw her.

Still, it was The Philadelphia Story that sealed my great love for Kate. I hadn’t yet latched onto classic films as the greatest love of my entertainment life (TCM hadn’t launched yet), but I was watching an episode of thirtysomething and became utterly intrigued when The Philadelphia Story was used as part of the plot. By that time I was a huge fan of Jimmy Stewart, having been charmed by him for many years already, and the few clips of the film that aired during thirtysomething were so enchanting that I knew I had to rent it immediately. It took less than 10 minutes for me to fall head over heels for both Hepburn and Cary Grant, whom I wasn’t yet familiar with either, and by the end of this first viewing I knew I’d become a lifelong fan of all three stars. The Philadelphia Story changed my opinion of “old” films, and I daresay it made me a fan of classic cinema. It wasn’t long after that I first saw It’s a Wonderful Life, as well, and my general love of movies became a great love of film and film history. And though I’ve seen many, many films from the Golden Age of Hollywood (and beyond), no actor has ever compared to Katharine Hepburn in my mind. Only one comes close — that being Cate Blanchett — but none can ever surpass the first Kate’s greatness. I read her autobiography a few years ago, and even in her real voice about her own life (and generally no-holds-barred), Kate Hepburn has never ceased to amaze and charm me. She was definitely one of a kind.

And so, in order of my love for them, the following are my favorite films featuring Katharine Hepburn. I’ve yet to see even a third of her filmography, but I look forward to expanding this list throughout the course of my life.

The Philadelphia Story
The Philadelphia Story
Hepburn is Tracy Lord, a wealthy socialite preparing for her second marriage, who is being shadowed on the eve of her wedding by two tabloid journalists (played by Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey). Tracy’s ex-husband (Cary Grant) also shows up, and a delightfully screwball comedy ensues wherein Tracy realizes she still has feelings for her first husband and is also developing new feelings for Stewart’s reporter. The film is funny and heartwarming and features layered performances by all of its stars.
Bringing Up Baby
Bringing Up Baby
Hepburn and Grant are teamed again in this silly little comedy involving a fossilized dinosaur bone, a pet leopard named Baby, a one-sided infatuation, and a case of mistaken identity. The premise of the film is truly ridiculous, but the performances of Hepburn and Grant (as well as the deft directing of Howard Hawks) redeem any flaws to make this film hilarious in every way. Bringing Up Baby also features my all-time favorite Hepburn movie quote, spoken as she limped along with one heel broken off her high-heeled shoes: “I was born on the side of a hill. I was born on the side of a hill.” Makes me laugh every time I think of it!
Without Love
Without Love
It took me a long, long time to appreciate Spencer Tracy, but it was Without Love that finally brought me around. He is utterly charming as a brilliant scientist working on a classified project for the military during World War II, and his interactions with Hepburn are so subtle and understated that I began to really root for their characters and forget about their real-life romance. Hepburn plays a widow attempting to begin her life anew when she finds that Tracy has finagled himself into her empty house and made it his home base. He manages to charm her into letting him stay, and in turn she begins to serve as his assistant on the project. After a while they decide that it would benefit them both to get married but vow to remain unemotional about the entire business. The charm of the film comes in the many ways they try to remain platonic in their relationship and avoid falling in love. (You can read my original thoughts on the film here.)
Stage Door
Stage Door
In a New York City boarding house, an eclectic mix of aspiring actresses live together (and often compete) while attempting to break into the theatre business on Broadway. Each woman has a particular dream, each woman has a string of disappointments, and each woman has a personality that sets her apart from her peers. The cast of this 1937 film is incredible, including Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and a young Lucille Ball, but Katharine Hepburn is especially memorable as (yet another) wealthy society darling who seeks to develop a career without her family’s connections. Hepburn plays her character of Terry Randall as arrogant and entitled but also fearful and insecure. What makes Stage Door so enchanting is the interaction between the women and the cacophonous rhythm of the film. I still think about various scenes months and months after seeing it for the first time. (Read my original thoughts on the film here.)
Honorable Mention to The African Queen
The African Queen
Hepburn plays a prim and snooty English missionary who must rely on a boorish steamboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) to transport her out of Eastern Africa when World War I finally reaches her region. Along the way, she convinces the captain to put his small craft to good use and contribute to the British war effort by attacking a German warship with their own constructed torpedo. It would be incredibly zany if not for the two lead actors, whose chemistry is delightful in this film and who each have such high regard for the other. Hepburn wrote an entire book about the experience of making The African Queen and their interaction on screen is enhanced by the journey they took together behind the scenes. It’s a beautiful film, brilliantly directed by John Huston, and it is fully anchored by Hepburn and Bogart, with most of the film being nothing more than the two of them in concerted discourse. There was a time when I thought the film to be tedious and very, very long, but upon successive viewings I’ve come to recognize how enchanting it really is. It’s also one of the first films that helped me understand what women saw in Humphrey Bogart. I know… it should’ve been Casablanca that did that, but it was Hepburn’s interaction with him in The African Queen that finally made him endearing to me, as well. This film was the first time I started to understand his magnetism, and I’ll always believe I have Ms. Hepburn to thank for that.

Monthly Movie Round-Up :: January 2011

Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: AfterlifeJanuary 3, 2011 / DVD
The Resident Evil movies are not really my taste, but for some reason the filmmakers keep casting people I love to see. I saw the first one because James Purefoy was involved, and then watched the sequel because of Oded Fehr. The third one didn’t interest me at all, and then I learned that Jason O’Mara had taken a role in it. And Wentworth Miller joined the most recent one, so of course I had to see that one, too. None of the first three interested me enough to watch for story, instead using my fast-forward button to skip through until my actors came onscreen. But with RE: Afterlife, I found an actual interest in the story itself. For the first time the movie came off pretty cool to me. They’re not meant to be great cinema, of course, but there was true fun in this latest installment and I didn’t expect that.
Mother and Child
Mother and ChildJanuary 5, 2011 / DVD
I hadn’t heard of Mother and Child until scanning the filmography of favorite Marc Blucas, but when I saw a trailer it seemed an interesting premise, as well. The film follows three main characters who each have a story involving motherhood: Annette Bening mourns the loss of a daughter she gave up for adoption a lifetime ago; Naomi Watts shields herself from all emotion because she never knew her own parents; and Kerry Washington struggles with an inability to conceive and a desire to become a mother at all costs. Their lives weave in and out of heartache and joy, and their personal journeys eventually intersect unexpectedly. Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson also co-star, but their roles are merely springboards for Bening and Watts. As the tale progressed I found myself drawn further and further into the story, to the point where I finally stopped multitasking and gave the movie my entire focus. I never expected to find this movie that engaging! Despite a true distaste for Watts’s character — she displays a harshness I’ve never seen from her — I found Mother and Child engrossing and eventually heartwarming. It’s not a great film, but it’s the kind of movie that is quite moving, especially to women.
PassengersJanuary 7, 2011 / Encore
In the past year I’ve lost my taste for Anne Hathaway, finding her more and more pretentious with every new project she creates, but this older film also featured Patrick Wilson so I opted to give it a chance. All I can really say is that Passengers is an odd little film. A plane crash brings Wilson and other survivors into Hathaway’s life, where she is the therapist assigned to their “case.” As the story progresses, her patients begin to disappear and in solving that mystery she finds that the plane crash isn’t the accident it seemed to be. Wilson is terrific in his role, and David Morse plays his part of a menacing airline executive beautifully. The conclusion is a bit more twisty than I expected, but I didn’t ever feel the need to turn the movie off. Though it’s more on scale with afternoon or late-night TV airings, Passengers isn’t such a bad little film. Just… different.
Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream HouseJanuary 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
My love for Cary Grant is well-documented here, and I’ve been wanting to watch this particular classic for years but never quite made time for it. All I knew is that it was supposedly one of his funniest roles. I’ll admit that it was humorous, but I didn’t find it to be among his best, to be honest. It’s a fun little movie about a New York City adman moving his family out of the city and eventually having to custom-build their dream home. The movie is filled with sight gags and punchlines, and Myrna Loy is sweet but uninspiring as Grant’s wife. Quite often I thought that she and Grant weren’t being given enough to do, which left the film a bit flat for me. But there was just enough fun to keep me interested to the end, so in that regard the film was enjoyable.
The Thin Man
The Thin ManJanuary 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
The Thin Man is where Myrna Loy truly shined. Much was made of her chemistry with William Powell in their roles of socialites Nick and Nora Charles, and everything that has been said is still true today. They are charming in these roles, and the film holds up as well today as it did upon its release in 1934. The Thin Man is a true classic, a keen mystery with humor and suspense and even a bit of action thrown in for good measure. It’s no wonder this film spawned a series of sequels! The Charleses become sleuths who never lose their grace or their ability to find the fun in each situation. In the end, the mystery wasn’t even the important part. Simply getting to know Nick and Nora made the movie incredibly fun.
Queen Bee
Queen BeeJanuary 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Little by little I’m working through Joan Crawford‘s filmography out of respect for my best good friend and her love of the actress. I’ve never been a fan before, but the more movies I watch the more I see Crawford’s greatness. With Queen Bee I was most surprised to learn that this was one of the only roles she played as a villain. I suppose it’s her personal history (or rather, her daughter Christina’s personal history) that makes us believe Crawford played villains all the time. Instead, she was really just one of the studio’s greatest assets for playing any type of character at all. The more I see her films, the more I understand how true this was. Queen Bee showed Crawford’s range in an extraordinary way, allowing her to infuse the character with just a touch of remorse even while embodying the overbearing and manipulative socialite who schemes against anyone threatening her personal agenda. The cast is rich with extraordinary actors and a wealth of interesting characters, and the movie resembles a stage play in its pacing and character interplay. And even the melodrama that is always present in films of this era serves the movie well and provides a perfect ending to an intricate tale. I can see why this film is one of Cerella‘s favorite Crawford flicks!
The Lion In Winter
The Lion in WinterJanuary 9, 2011 / Turner Classic Movies
Yet again I discovered that I’ve not seen nearly as many Katharine Hepburn films as I thought I had. The Lion in Winter has always seemed so familiar to me, yet I’ve apparently only seen the same moments again and again throughout the years, leading me to believe I knew the performances by Hepburn and Peter O’Toole better than I actually did. In reality, this was my first complete viewing. O’Toole’s King Henry II and Hepburn as his wife-slash-adversary Eleanor of Aquitaine are so equally matched in their ferocity that viewing the film is much like watching a military battle; they spar and retreat and lunge again as if their lives depended on it. And it’s a glorious sight to behold. Providing equally dramatic support is Anthony Hopkins in one of his first feature film appearances, and though he’s not immediately recognizable, he absolutely holds his own against his legendary co-stars. The story is set around Henry’s plan to name his successor to the throne and Eleanor’s schemes to make sure he names their first-born instead of his favored younger son, but the heart of the film really lies in the interactions between characters. It’s a roller coaster of emotional scenes that pack more and more punch as the film progresses. Which often brings as much exhaustion to the viewer as it did to the actors delivering the scenes. The Lion in Winter remains a classic because few performances could ever equal those of Hepburn, O’Toole and Hopkins.
Legends of the Fall
Legends of the FallJanuary 9, 2011 / Encore
When this film was released and Brad Pitt hysteria began, I did not see the appeal of either Pitt or the movie. It took me almost a decade to see the merit of Pitt’s talent (in Ocean’s Eleven and then Spy Game), and finally I decided to go back and watch Legends of the Fall. Once again I realize how much I miss when I make snap judgments! I loved Legends. Absolutely loved it! It’s the kind of movie I adore, with its nod to Native American history and aspects of frontier life, and I was reminded how great Pitt was in his early years when acting was the focus of his career (before he was “Brad Pitt, superstar”). Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas, and Julia Ormond each brought additional depth to the movie that made it so beautiful and so engaging, and Gordon Tootoosis presented the heart and soul that he is always known for. Though Legends of the Fall is mostly a love story, it is not just a historical romance but rather a tale of family and redemption and perseverance. All of the things that make a movie great.
The Long Kiss Goodnight
The Long Kiss GoodnightJanuary 11, 2011 / Encore
Long have I seen this film on lists of movies that are overlooked by the masses, and long has Cerella told me to put it on my viewing list, but until I came across it unexpectedly on Encore I really never made a plan for it. Geena Davis isn’t one of my favorite actors (though I have enjoyed her from time to time) and Renny Harlin has never elicited a confidence in me (sorry, C, but I just don’t see the appeal!). But during a long night of insomnia, this movie seemed a perfect choice to pass the time. And I did enjoy it, somewhat, though I found a lot of it to be as hokey as other Harlin films have been. I also don’t subscribe to the notion that it compares to the Bourne films in any way. The only similarity is the premise of Davis’s character regaining her memory of being an assassin before developing amnesia. Beyond that, the Bourne films are a thousand times better and those stories far more complex. That’s just my opinion, of course, and had I seen The Long Kiss Goodnight when it was released (six years prior to Matt Damon’s The Bourne Identity) I may have felt differently about it. But since the Bourne trilogy is one of my favorite cinematic joys, I just don’t see as much value in Davis and Harlin’s creation as most people seem to find. Although I loved seeing David Morse as his younger, thinner self! Beyond that, I can’t say The Long Kiss Goodnight is much more than a classic 90s film, when movies were stuck between emerging technologies and over-the-top acting.
Rising Sun
Rising SunJanuary 11, 2011 / Encore
Speaking of bad movies from the 90s, Rising Sun is one of the worst. I honestly wish I’d never seen this movie. It’s vulgar, it’s distasteful, and it’s a perfect showcase for how bad Wesley Snipes can be. I hated it, and I hated that Sean Connery was involved. Rising Sun just had so much potential and failed miserably on all accounts.
DoubtJanuary 15, 2011 / Encore
Like most everyone on the planet, I find Meryl Streep phenomenal, and her performance in Doubt is as good as anything she’s ever done. It’s easy to forget how forceful she can be when she plays a string of fun roles like Mamma Mia and Julie & Julia, but as Sister Aloysius, a severe nun at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, Streep is nothing short of mesmerizing. But what makes Doubt such a great film are the equally powerful performances of her co-stars: Amy Adams as a young protégée and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest accused by Aloysius of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. The movie doesn’t provide definitive proof of the priest’s crime, so a viewer is left to question in the same way as Streep’s and Adams’s characters. And that’s what makes the film so compelling. I was torn by my own swaying opinions throughout the movie, even as I was quick to find Aloysius much too harsh on Hoffman’s Father Flynn. It’s Adams’s naïve Sister James who gives the movie its heart and its softer edges, proving without a doubt that her Oscar nomination for this role was well-deserved. Doubt is a film I chose to see because of its Oscar connection, but it turned out to be much more interesting than anticipated.
I Capture the Castle
I Capture the CastleJanuary 15, 2011 / Encore
Sometimes a movie is so unexpectedly good that I am surprised I’ve never heard of it before, and then I wonder why the world isn’t talking about it, too. I Capture the Castle is just such a film — one that I watched because of a single actor’s involvement (Marc Blucas) and discovered to be on the same level of quality as Pride & Prejudice and Atonement and any number of British dramas. It’s the story of Cassandra, a young woman trying to find balance in life as her eccentric father struggles to write an elusive novel, her sister toys with the hearts of two American suitors, and she falls in love with one of those suitors herself. To make matters worse, the Americans actually own the crumbling castle that Cassandra’s family calls home, and a childhood friend has fallen in love with her but finds his own affections unrequited. The story is complex and romantic and heartbreaking and quite often very funny, and I found myself thinking how much more I would’ve enjoyed Atonement if it had included even a little of the light-heartedness found in Castle. I loved the latter from its first act, and I still can’t believe it remained hidden from me all these years. But no longer! I know that I Capture the Castle will be on my list of go-to Brit flicks from here on out. And, surprisingly, it has very little to do with my love for Marc Blucas.
TheyJanuary 16, 2011 / TV Broadcast
When you watch movies because of their casts of actors, you’re often assured of some horrible experiences, even if the actors themselves do their best in the roles. So I watch a lot of really bad films just for the sake of seeing actors I love, and They is one such movie. It’s nothing I would choose to watch, as it is a Wes Craven film and, therefore, bordering on horror, but I gave it a bit of time for that Blucas fellow mentioned above. This was early in his career, so I expected that I wouldn’t have to endure much of the film in order to see him — and that was true — but the movie wasn’t so disturbing that I felt the need to skip over much of it, either. I simply let it run and averted my eyes when the creep-factor came into play. It’s not a good film. It doesn’t even feature good performances. It’s just a creepy pseudo-thriller. But I enjoyed Blucas in his few onscreen moments, and that’s all I expected from the movie in the first place.
The Dark Knight
The Dark KnightJanuary 22, 2011 / TV broadcast
I’ve seen this movie several times and love it just as much on each successive viewing, but this time I experienced an interesting moment as the Joker threw his rampage into overdrive in the third act of the film. For the first time since it was released, I didn’t feel sadness at the loss of Heath Ledger. Each previous viewing was bittersweet, and a point would inevitably come when his death overshadowed the onscreen glee. It’s not that reality threatened to derail his performance, but that I simply felt the void of not getting any more chances to see how far his talent could have taken him. But this time, on this fifth or sixth viewing, I didn’t feel that melancholy. I was able to fully experience the Joker’s sadistic joy and be truly entertained without once considering what the world had lost. It wasn’t until hours later that it hit me, but it came without grief this time. Just an awareness and a thankfulness that Ledger’s greatest performance was captured for eternity.
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bourne UltimatumJanuary 29, 2011 / TV Broadcast
I’m a sucker for the Bourne movies. Even when I don’t have any plans to watch them, even when I haven’t thought about them for months, if I happen upon one of them in my TV surfing, I’m there for the duration. I love them, I love Matty Damon, I love the Bourne character and the many supporting actors who contribute to the overall story arc. I never tire of these movies. That said, I’m far more partial to Identity and Supremacy than I am to this third chapter. Ultimatum wasn’t the conclusion I hoped it would be, despite answering the key questions about Jason Bourne. (I’m happy to hear that a fourth Bourne just may be in the works. I’ve always felt a little cheated.) But I did watch this airing of The Bourne Ultimatum in its entirety because (a) I had no other plans, and (b) I love Julia Stiles‘s character in this one more than any other. It’s important to watch all of the chapters in a series, even when you don’t necessarily enjoy them all. It’s important to keep the story complete in your mind. And so I do, and I did. And it was just as much fun as the first time.
Also seen in January: Ondine, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, and Winter’s Bone.

Films I’ve Seen in 2010, Part Six

Alice in Wonderland
Alice In WonderlandJune 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 even now!
All That Jazz
All That JazzJune 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.
High Fidelity
High FidelityJune 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
The 60s miniseriesJune 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.
Without Love
Without LoveJune 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.
Alice Adams
Alice AdamsJune 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
Ring of DeceitJune 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?
Deadly Isolation
Deadly IsolationJune 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
Dances With WolvesJune 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
To Catch A ThiefJune 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!
Grand Hotel
Grand HotelJune 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
Man on FireJune 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
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.
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