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All reviews - Movies (106) - TV Shows (4) - Music (13)

Join the Navy!

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 18 April 2015 09:08 (A review of Anchors Aweigh)

Anchors Aweigh is the first film of the Frank Sinatra-Gene Kelly trilogy, tapping into classic Hollywood musicals odd fascination with sailors. It wouldn’t be the last time Kelly or Sinatra would play a sailor and what an underrated comedic duo they are. Gene Kelly is loveably egocentric, constantly lying about his exploits with dames and rubbing the fact that he got leave in his comrades’ faces so much that he sings a musical number about it; the interactions he shares with Sinatra are priceless. Reportedly Kelly was known in real life for being a control freak and getting his own way, so I wonder how much of his personality is reflective in his performance. Frank Sinatra is largely the opposite of Kelly, girl shy and completely gawky, a stark contrast to what he later became; he sure toughened up over time.

 

Anchors Aweigh can around the beginning of new era of film musicals, at a time when the genre became almost exclusively one filmed in colour and when the distinctive style of the MGM musical took off, separating them from the likes of the Astaire & Rodgers musicals of the past. Unlike Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly was off the people, usually playing commoners on screen. Fred Astaire did play a sailor in Follow the Fleet but no doubt Gene Kelly suits it better.

 

Perhaps the film’s best highlight is Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry of Tom & Jerry fame. It might not be as technically advanced or as smoothly animated as later live action/animation hybrids but it’s one of the most awe inspiring. They animators even make note to include Jerry’s reflection in the floor. The studio originally wanted Disney to allow them use of Mickey Mouse for the number, which seems very hard to believe. The inclusion of some very Disney looking animated creatures, including two which look suspiciously like Bambi and Thumper, suggests the studio was serious about including Mickey.

 

The other unique aspect of Anchors Aweigh is the documentary like look at MGM studios in 1945 during one portion in the film. A peak at the dream factory itself, with people in costume, props everywhere and what look like studio workers in suits going about their business. It’s unabashed self promotion but hey, it’s one entertaining commercial. This use of on location filming including the scenes as the Hollywood Bowl show shades of what was come several years later in On the Town. I do wish they though could have shown some more of 1945 Hollywood but the sets present in Anchors Aweigh are something to marvel at. Even with the odd background which is clearly two painted backdrops placed side by side with a dividing line clearly visible, the sets create a cartoon like Technicolor world that you wish real life could look like; just look at that set of the Spanish part of town; such artificial beauty.

 

The only downside to Anchors Aweigh which prevents it from being a greater film is the run time and much of this is largely due to the amount of which is spent in the house of Kathryn Grayson’s character; I really started to get sick of the sight of it, especially since the movie takes place in Hollywood and there are places so much more interesting they could be. The characters keep returning to the house several times throughout the movie, which wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t for the large chunk of time that was spent there when they first arrived at it; by far the most  frustrating aspect of the film. Thankfully the good outweighs the bad and the good isn’t just good, it’s amazingly good. There’s really no dud musical number present, they’re all so very, very beautiful.



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Precious Venus!

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 18 April 2015 12:03 (A review of How to Steal a Million)

*** This review contains spoilers ***

William Wyler is one of my very favourite directors and this being his third last film of a forty year career is a testament to the phenomenal director he was. Wyler didn't direct many comedies, and with a comedy as perfect as How To Steal a Million that’s a crying shame. In fact the last straight up comedy he directed was 31 years earlier with The Gay Deception and the Ernst Lubitsch inspired The Good Fairy. How To Steal a Million defiantly owes something to Ernst Lubitsch. The character’s interactions have that Lubitsch touch while the European setting and the high society elegance are unmistakably Lubitsch. Speaking of elegance, does this movie have style! At the beginning of the film we see Audrey Hepburn driving an unusually small car, wearing sunglasses and all white apparel; setting the tone for one heck of an eye pleasing film.

 

Since How to Steal a Million was made after the demise of Hollywood’s production code and the character’s we’re routing for are essentially criminals it did surprise me that they didn't let the character’s get away with their actions at the end of the film. Peter O’Toole (one of Hepburn’s few age appropriate leading man) shows that he could be as suave and debonair as the likes of William Powell. I often say this with a lot of primarily dramatic actors; I wish he could have done more comedies. It can’t be easy to ask the person whose house you were in the process of robbing to give you a lift home in a perfectly convincing manner.

 

The robbery process itself makes want to shout “genius” at the screen. The manner in which the heist is pulled of is so inventive and suspenseful as all hell. This was the days before CCTV so their plan probably wouldn't work nowadays. How to Steal a Million is one of the rare comedies which is consistently funny from start to finish; almost without a laugh free minute.



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No Stone Unturned

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 12 April 2015 02:50 (A review of JFK)

I’m aware in modern times conspiracy theories have become detrimental in discovering the actual truth (largely thanks to the internet) but I can’t deny that I just love this sort of stuff. JFK requires your utmost attention and at a run time of three hours it feels like the movie leaves no stone upturned (pardon the pun) in its examination and deconstruction of the Kennedy assassination. Admittedly the first time I watched JFK I didn’t understand much of what is discussed in the film. It’s a lot to digest in a single viewing but there are more intriguing theories here than an entire season of Ancient Aliens (minus the bad hair cuts and awkward line delivery); but I can happily watch JFK multiple times to further understand it and eat up every single word of dialogue. I doubt we will ever need another film made about the Kennedy assassination; what highly talented filmmaker could be more passionate about the subject matter? I also highly recommend watching the director’s cut for even more conspiracy goodness to evoke the paranoia in you.

 

JFK is one of those movies which makes you most appreciate the art of editing, incorporating many layers of time and reels of stock footage; no scene during the movie’s three hours is edited in a standard fashion. The editing help make the film’s exposition exciting; a character may be describing an event as the scene cuts to just that in an obscured or dreamlike manner. The Mr. X sequence with Donald Sutherland is a perfect example of how to pull of engrossing exposition; plus is there a more classic cold war, spy movie type scene than meeting a suited man in the park to receive classified information. Likewise John Williams’ theme for JFK evokes my inner patriotic American, even if I’m not American nor patriotic. The militaristic and at other times conspiratorial nature of the score helps make the movie as compelling as it is. The black & white scenes such as those featuring the military feel reminiscent of Seven Days In May with shades throughout of the John Frankenheimer style. I’m sure Stone must have also taken some pointers from the first movie about the Kennedy assassination, 1973’s Executive Action.

 

JFK continues the tradition of films such as The Longest Day in which a large ensemble cast of familiar faces and great screen presences to help guide us through the story. It’s amazing seeing different generations of actors doing some of the best work their careers and utilizing their screen personas to full effect even if many of them are only on screen for short spaces of time. Some of the figures in the story strike me as too bizarre to have been real life people, especially David Ferrie and Claw Shaw.

 

I’ve always been in defense of Kevin Costner against criticisms of being a dull actor. Granted his career did go downhill in mid 90’s and has never fully recovered but in his heyday of the late 1980’s/early 90’s he was such a hot streak of films. Casting him in the role of Jim Garrison couldn’t be more perfect as Costner is much like a modern day classic movie actor in the vein of everymen like James Stewart, Henry Fonda or Gary Cooper. He’s been most commonly compared to Cooper (the courtroom section of the film is reminiscent of Cooper’s role in The Fountainhead) although with his southern demeanor I would compare him to being a modern day Henry Fonda. I would defy anyone to call Costner a bad actor after watching the film’s courtroom scene. Talking almost non-stop for 40 minutes and never losing my attention while exuding a stern, emotional and towards the end of the speech, a fragile voice; with his final conclusion bringing a tear to my eye.

 

I find Jim Garrison’s family life interesting itself, mostly from the relationship with his wife. What does he see in her? She does not support his endeavors, despite his noble cause and unlike her husband she is susceptible to believing what the media tells her. Here is a man who spends the movie questioning and fighting the system yet has a wife with a conformist personality. I can’t say for certain what they were like in real life but the in film I grew to dislike her character.

 

JFK  draws no conclusions, it doesn’t prove who assassinated Kennedy and allows the viewer make up their own mind. Stone may be often criticized for his use of a dramatist’s license but as I say with many film’s based on historical events; this can make for a more compelling story. Even if there are untruths present, the film can act as a gateway to wanting to discover the real story. The movie did leave me a feeling of (good) anger and is one of the films I can credit with helping to influence the way I think.

 

“Dedicated to the young in whose the spirit the search for truth marches on.”



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Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 10 April 2015 07:23 (A review of A Majority of One)

I’ve never seen another love story like A Majority of One. A story of two elderly individuals who are worlds apart having to overcome their racial prejudice, as well as being one of the few films in existence about love at old age. These imperfect and flawed characters feel so real and human, and while two and a half hours may seem overlong, I believe this time is justified. I wish more films could have the level of honest storytelling on display here.

 

The casting as Alec Guinness as a Japanese businessman has been widely criticised but I have disagree, I thought he was perfectly convincing in the role. His character is flawed, he’s not the stereotypical wise old Asian man who is full of otherworldly knowledge which he easily could have been; he makes mistakes and doesn’t have the answers to everything. Unlike many Asian characters in Hollywood films, he doesn’t talk in broken English or exhibit any other commonly seen Asian stereotypes. Compared to Japanese stereotypes seen in World War II propaganda films 20 years earlier, A Majority of One was certainly a sign of progress.

 

Why should an actor’s race limit the roles they can portray? If they play a character of a different race convincingly and in a non-offence manner, I don’t see any reason to be up in arms. Should the roles an actor may want to attempt be limited to only characters of their race? I feel there is a double standard at play here; for a non white actor to be cast in a role or as a character originally conceived as white it will be viewed as forward thinking and progressive; for a white actor to be cast in a non white role then it is considered racist? Film is a business and you need big stars for a movie to be box office hit; how many Asian actors where big stars to American audiences in the early 60’s. A movie like A Majority of One was an initial stepping stone to more equal representation in film, perhaps it not succeed as the film was not a box office success but the intent was there.

 

Rosalind Russell plays a potentially unlikable bigoted character but she manages to make the role endearing with her lovable nature and witty comebacks. I didn’t see her character as an exaggerated stereotype. I’ve seen far more exaggerated representations of Jews in other films (do I even need to list examples?). Her character has lead an ingrown life in Brooklyn, however the movie shows the younger generation of her daughter and son in law holding more progressive views and are less conservative than their elders. Russell won’t enter a bedroom wither son in law inhabiting without permission in case he isn’t decent; her daughter on the other hand will just walk on in. Likewise the film highlights westernised trends in Japan such as Alec Guinness wearing a western flat cap tot the popularity of American music and Hollywood movies in Japan, while still acknowledging the anti American sentiment which exists in Japan. Also this movie has Eddie, a whiny little brat but in a funny way; I love this guy.



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Isn’t It Romantic? ‘Fraid Not

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 9 April 2015 11:45 (A review of Sabrina)

Sabrina is a movie which has ‘me’ written all over it. A romantic comedy directed by Billy Wilder and starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. I should be writing a review right now proclaiming my love for it, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get emotionally engaged with this film. That was disappointing enough, although the thing which drove me crazy is that I couldn’t figure out why Sabrina doesn’t engage me despite being my cup of tea; a giant mug of tea with a chocolate digestive on the side.

 

I know many people comment on the issue of a young girl being involved in a relationship with a man old enough to be her father, but once you’ve seen enough classic Hollywood movies in which this is the case, then you get used to it. Sabrina’s love interest David Larrabee (William Holden) didn’t strike me as an interesting character initially, but on closer examination I think he does have some personality in how superficial he is, but I’m not convinced you would want to kill yourself over this guy. Also is his hair bleached in this film, it looks terrible.

 

On closer inspection, I believe the major flaw in Sabrina is that the title character is simply not interesting. I never caught onto this previously due to Audrey Hepburn’s natural lovable charm, but when thinking to myself about what are this character’s personality traits, a tumbleweed went by in my mind. Her transition from ugly duckling to glamour goddess is unconvincing; I imagine making Audrey Hepburn appear unattractive is impossible, but her appearance when she returns from Paris compared to her earlier self is largely the same aside from her just wearing more classy attire. Due to this the scene in which David meets Sabrina for the first time after returning from Paris and he doesn’t recognise her is hard to digest. Compare this to the 1995 remake (which yes I think is a much better film), it gives the character of Sabrina an in depth personality, a character transition which is more substantial and stronger chemistry between the leading lady and her two male co stars, but that is for another review.

 

Bogart’s role is the only character in the triangle who I find has any character development, playing against type as a sympathetic businessman. I find Sabrina isn’t without its moments, such as William Holden getting glass up his...you know. Was this word commonly known in 1954[Link removed - login to see]? Did 1950’s movie goers get the joke? Sabrina is more ordinary than Wilder’s other movies, and I feel it could have been directed by anyone. I assume Wilder wanting to directed something lighter for a change, not that there’s anything wrong with that, however this is his only movie from the 1950’s which I don’t like. I guess you can’t win ‘em all.



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A Day at the Races

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 9 April 2015 11:44 (A review of Broadway Bill)

*** This review contains spoilers ***


Broadway Bill is Frank Capra’s forgotten follow up to It Happened One Night, likely due to the film being out of circulation until the 1990’s and what a shame too. Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy are not romantic leads as she is his sister in law but both of them have great admiration for each other with Dan Brooks (Baxter) referring to her affectionately as The Princess and Loy clearly in love with the man and holding the same ideals as him but unable to go any further due to family ties; I find this dynamic is more interesting than a standard romance. Capra originally wanted Clark Gable in the lead role but had to settle with Warner Baxter who at least seems to be the next best thing as he holds much of the same rugged, footloose appeal of Gable.

 

Broadway Bill features many of the same Capra-isms as seen in his other films. The small town of Higginsvillie being run by business mogul J.L Higggins played by Walter Connolly is a much more light hearted version of Mr Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life. He is in control of his entire family who run his individual enterprises and even their own national bank as visualised in a gag in which the entire Higgin’s family proceed to eat dinner in perfect unison. They’re not the Rothchilds but they’re wealthy and powerful (“Higgins, that’s not a family, that’s a disease”). Yet at the end of the film J.L. gets rid of his businesses or as he puts it, gives back institutions to the people who founded them. Like the Sycamore family in You Can’t Take It With You, Dan Brooks want to leave behind his life of work in favour of leisure and enjoyment, ideals comparable to the counter cultures of the 1960’s. After all what could be more dull than running a paper box company? Unless you’re Seymour Skinner.

 

One of the most pivotal scenes in Broadway Bill involves one of the richest men in the world, J.P. Chase putting a $2 bet on Broadway Bill at 100/1 as a means to pass time will in hospital. When word gets out it spreads like wild fire and the claims of what the amount of money he placed on the best become exaggerated from $2 to $20,000 to $50,000 all the way up to a quarter million. Simple message - don’t believe everything you hear.

 

I love Broadway Bill for its simple cheerful Innocence. This is one of several films which has managed to tug my heart strings over the fate of a horse. One plot element even involves the horse Broadway Bill refusing to race because he doesn’t have his pet chicken called skeeter. You wouldn’t find this kind of innocence today in a film which is supposedly made for adults.



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My Favourite TV Show

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 6 April 2015 12:01 (A review of Father Ted)

Yes, Father Ted is my favourite TV show of all time. In the UK and Ireland we quote this show as much as the rest of the world quotes The Simpsons, with so many lines and terms from the show becoming implanted into our psyche. I’ve been watching Father Ted since I was kid, and even though I didn’t get of any of the adult jokes back then, the wacky and surreal humour always had me in fits of laughter. I don’t think there’s been a month in the last 17 years that I haven’t watched one of its 25 episodes, yet I still can’t pick a favourite!

Every joke in Father Ted works on so many levels. The setting of the fictional Craggy Island is surely the most backward ended place on Earth, but this is all brilliantly downplayed. Whenever anything absurd happens, the characters react in an unsurprised or not surprised enough manner. For example, when Ted discovers Craggy Island has its own Chinatown. Just how does an island off the coast of Ireland have a significant Chinese population and how does a person living there not even know about it?! I could take any joke from this show and list on multiple levels as to why it’s so absurd and surreal. The inconsistencies and even the odd plot hole just makes everything funnier.

I suspect one of the reasons Father Ted became so successful is that it dispelled the notion that the Irish are completely oblivious to the outside world in the sense that the characters talk about popular culture just like people in any other civilized county would. Granted the characters in every other sense don't act like people in the real world, but I believe this one aspect made the show more relatable to a wider audience, from references to bands such as Oasis and Radiohead to various film references (Dougal, we are not watching Aliens!). I'm from Ireland and even to this day I hear stories from Irish people who have gone abroad and meet people who think Ireland is technologically un-advanced country and that we all live in cottages. One story I always remember was an Irish guy telling me of how he told an American he owned an Xbox 360, and the American couldn't believe it.

Allow me to hold up my cup of tea to Father Ted. May I continue to watch it for years, with Dougal and Mrs Doyle and Father Jack forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever...


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The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 5 April 2015 11:32 (A review of The Petrified Forest)

*** This review contains spoilers ***

When I first watched The Petrified Forest I was at an unsure time in my life, fearful of the future and with my own sense of individualism and artistic ambitions. Watching Leslie Howard as Alan Squier as failed artist who eventually takes his own life so a young girl could be the artist he never was, made me fearful and depressed of what my own future held in store for me. I felt for this character to the point that it hurt because I was worried that someday I could become that character, perhaps not to that extreme but destined to a similar fate. Gabrielle (Bette Davis) Is a character is stuck in a rut and dreams of going to France. At the time when I watched this film and I was dealing with the uncertainty of if I would ever leave my hometown or would I always be stuck here. Few other films have ever had characters which spoke so directly to me.

The Petrified Forest’s most notable contribution to cinema is the breakthrough role of Humphrey Bogart. Bogart was never more terrifying than the role of Duke Mantee. I generally don’t think of Bogart as an actor who is scary, but here he is a guy I would not want to be stuck in an elevator with. Just like the characters in the film, Bogart’s acting career had been marred with failure up until this point. This likely being his final chance to make it in Hollywood no doubt must have fueled his performance. I know a film is good when I have to think and contemplate which actor (Howard of Bogart) gave the better performance. How often do you get to see gangsters and intellectuals involved in such profound conversations? Howard and Bogart play characters who are worlds apart yet develop a mutual respect for each other as they discover they share a bond with their individualism. Also look out for Bogart’s head being framed over a moose head so it looks like he has antlers though out the film. Fascinating characters (all with such unique dynamics between each other) in a fascinating story is already one of the most important things I could ask for from a movie, even better when they affect me on a personal level.


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Fifty Shades Of Screwball

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 5 April 2015 08:31 (A review of Theodora Goes Wild)

Theodora Goes Wild is an amazingly progressive film, from an era when Hollywood was dominated by strict censorship, provoking the reaction of “how did they get away with that?!”. Hollywood’s production code came into effect in 1934, yet there are films made after this date with code breaking content such as Theodora Goes Wild, which make me question if Will Hays was sick the day this movie went through the production board.


Theodora Lynn is a Sunday school teacher who’s been playing the church organ since she was 15 in the small town of Lynnfield, Connecticut (yet another screwball comedy set in the state). The small community is being dictated by a group of Helen Lovejoy types but when the local newspaper run by Thomas Mitchell starts printing a serialization of a scandalous best seller by writer Caroline Adams in an effort to show the town how people live, love and learn in the real world, it causes outrage. Little do they know Caroline Adams is their own Theodora Lynn! Whoever said old movies are outdated? This movie hasn’t lost an ounce of relevance for today’s world.


The scene at the beginning of Theodora Goes Wild in which the ultra conservative local literary group read passages from the “scandalous” novel has jaw dropping amounts of “how did they get away with that?!” Under the rules of the production code a character must receive a punishment for their so called immoral actions. Not here though! Despite Theodora rebelling against her staunchly conservative home town and upbringing, she receives no punishment. Whoever said old movies are stuffy?


The creation of the screwball comedy came about following the production code’s introduction as a way of ventilating sexual repression. It requires a bit of Melvyn Douglas as Michael Grant to ignite Theodora’s sexual awakening after he seduces her while wearing a vest as his only piece of torso. Despite nether of these two performers being sex symbols, it’s surprising how steamy this scene comes off. Melvyn Douglas plays a potentially creepy stalker but is charming enough to get away with it. The man has adapt comedic timing (I never tire of that whistling of his) and it’s easy to see why he was one of the most reliable male co stars of the time. I would rank Theodora Goes Wild as the second most pre-code post-code film I’ve seen. The only film I think of which out does it is The Lady Eve. So yeah, “how did they get away with that?!”.



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Seymour! Mother!

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 4 April 2015 10:37 (A review of Grace Quigley)

Old Hollywood stars who were still working by the 1980’s where usually appearing in films dealing with old age (On Golden Pond, Tough Guys, The Whales of August). Grace Quigley was one such film and would be Katharine Hepburn’s last starring role in a theatrical film. The movie’s alternative title is ‘The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley’ although I’m assuming that title is less commonly used since it echoes a certain 20th century atrocity.

 

Starring alongside Nick Nolte, Grace Quigley has a Harold and Maude element of a young man and an old woman becoming an unlikely team but the Hal Ashby comparison doesn’t end there as I’ve read several sources stating he was originally set to direct the project. The plot of the film involves retired widow Grace Quigley and hit man Seymour Flint getting together through a series of events (and eventfully he adorably starts calling her mom) and starting their own assisted suicide enterprise.  Yes that’s the plot. Grace Quigley is one of my favourite dark comedies with much of the film’s humour coming from the characters talking so casually about killing themselves as if it’s something they do every day as well as the inclusion of possibly the happiest funeral ever.

 

 The film has a pro-assisted suicide message with one scene involving Grace’s neighbour played by William Duell telling Seymour about dying with dignity and her unwillingness to go to a retirement home as well as “dying in front of a TV set”. In one of the more serious moments of the film Grace takes Seymour to a retirement home to show him the horrors. I applaud the film for having the courage to make these unapologetic statements about one’s right to take their own life and society’s treatment of the elderly.  As Grace Quigley was a pet project for Katharine Hepburn she must have strongly believed in the issues raised in the film (and a sequel was even planned!).

 

I also recommend looking up Grace Quigley’s UK VHS cover art. The film I not actually that action packed (although there is one brief car chase) but I still say it is the single greatest piece of home video artwork ever created.



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