Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's Been A Hard Day's Night

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

Released: July 6, 1964
Directed: Richard Lester
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr

In honor of Paul McCartney playing tonight (and tomorrow) at Wrigley Field in my beautiful hometown of Chicago, I rewatched A Hard Day's Night and all the other Beatles' films I own. But as this is their first, I thought it all the more appropriate. And no, I'm not going. I don't have money and therefore all of my dreams are crushed.
But before I go commit suicide, I'll tell you all about this wonderful film.
A Hard Day's Night is a sort of fake documentation of a day in the life of The Beatles. Although the scenario and plot is far fetched and not at all likely to happen (which is all the more increased in HELP!, YELLOW SUBMARINE, and MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR) the hysteria surrounding the boys' is. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are going to play on television, but Paul's mixer of a grandfather messes with Ringo's head and he goes missing. There's lots of fun scenes, memorable one liners, and fabulous romps. Think Monkees, but awesomer. Plus before The Monkees... but you get the idea.
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT needs to be watched by nearly everyone in the universe. It's really that great. It's fun to hear the boys play, mess up, and do wonderful things. You get to hear them talk, crack jokes, and be magical. So this is a pretty terrible review, but when the plot is pretty convoluted and The Beatles super adorable, it's kind of hard to pay attention to anything else. The point is, watch it. You won't regret it. Unless you're an uncultured slob who is tone deaf and lacks any type of sense of humour. And I'd like to add that John says, "Please sir, could I have one to surge with, sir, please, sir?" Some people think he says other weird things....

I'm a drummer, not a wet nurse,
LW

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stay Carefree

CAREFREE

Released: September 2, 1938
Directed: Mark Sandrich
Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers

CAREFREE is just that. It is the shortest of the Astaire/Rogers pictures, and only has four songs. But each song is delightful, and based on the premise of the film, four songs is really too much.
Astaire is Dr. Tony Flagg, a psychiatrist who's newest patient just so happens to be the lovely Ginger Rogers. Amanda Cooper (Rogers) is Flagg's best friend's girl, and he isn't too keen on the idea of dealing with a mind changing blonde. But, rather than Astaire falling for Rogers, Rogers falls for Astaire. It's refreshing to see Rogers do the chasing. The only other time she did so was in SWING TIME, another great Astaire/Rogers film.
One beef I had with the film was Astaire as a dancing psychiatrist. Sure he explains it early on in the film, but I don't exactly think of psychiatrists dancing. Not that they don't, I'm sure some do, but it just doesn't work so well for Astaire. Another is the ending. I like it except for one certain make up choice. They just shouldn't have done it.
Other than that, a real great film. Astaire and Rogers have wonderful chemistry, and they dance together like no other. An Astaire/Rogers picture always guarantees a good time with laughs and general good feelings. Ginger sings a solo song, which is great because she never really got the chance to do some singing despite her beautiful voice, and Fred does a fantastic golf dance.

Men like him should be shot down like dogs!
LW

Monday, July 25, 2011

You Mean It's Not Christmas In July?

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

Released: October 18, 1940
Directed: Preston Sturges
Starring: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew

CHRISTMAS IN JULY is one of those screwball comedies of Preston Sturges that falls just a little flat. Compared to THE LADY EVE, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, and THE PALM BEACH STORY, CHRISTMAS IN JULY just doesn't have that pizazz that Sturges' other films have. Of course, this is only his second directorial job, and as such, his better films would come much later.
Perhaps it's not the direction, but rather the acting and story. Dick Powell is Jim MacDonald, a regular joe who has a habit of entering contests in the hope of winning enough money to marry his girl (Ellen Drew) and take care of his mom. Three of his coworkers fake his winning the "Maxford House Coffee Slogan Contest" with a $25,000 grand prize. Naturally MacDonald goes on a shopping spree of Christmas proportions. Of course, he really didn't win, which causes much trouble for our unlikely hero.
The first half of the movie is Powell dreaming, scheming, and "winning." The second half, or more like the last thirty minutes, is Powell spending and doing absolutely nothing. MacDonald is a dry, boring, and hopeless character. He doesn't do a thing. He just sort of takes what life gives him. That may work for novels and even plays, but it just doesn't work for the silver screen. You can tell Powell is trying to make the part something, but he fails.
You'd think the writing would be better considering Sturges has quite a record up until this point, but perhaps since it's based off of his play, it's just a bit dry.
Not that it isn't entertaining, because it is. There are a few bits that I found highly amusing, but other times, I was just so bored that I fast forwarded it. CHRISTMAS IN JULY is highly predictable, and a piece of light fluff. It's good for background noise or just if you have a bad habit of leaving the TV on, as I do. Not much substance, but it's good for a quick watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Besides, it's Preston Sturges. His best work is yet to come.

If you can't sleep, it isn't the coffee. It's the bunk.
LW

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Name's Harper

HARPER

Released: February 23, 1966
Directed: Jack Smight
Starring: Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall

HARPER is a mystery/thriller type film. Think Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep, but no Bogey and in the 60's. Paul Newman is Lew Harper, a private detective who is hired by Mrs. Sampson (Bacall) to find her missing husband. Of course, he's only been missing for a day...
HARPER is a really great throwback to the detective movies of the 30's and 40's. Newman is gorgeous and funny. He's tough and edgy, and plays the person everyone wants him to be, except probably his estranged wife, played by Janet Leigh.
Lauren Bacall is right at home in this picture, having had plenty of practice in her films with husband, Bogey. The rest of the characters range from femme fatales, mercenaries, friend, enemies, and general red herrings. HARPER is a fantastic film with a fantastic story and wonderful acting. Definitively a must see film. And here's a bit of trivia. HARPER is based off the novel, The Moving Target by Ross MacDonald. The character's name is Lew Archer, but was changed to Harper. It's rumoured that Newman wanted it to start with an 'H' due to his successes with 'H' titled films. There is also a sequel, but that one's named after the book.

Only cream and bastards rise,
LW

Monday, July 18, 2011

That's My Favorite Wife

MY FAVORITE WIFE

Released: May 17, 1940
Directed: Garson Kanin
Starring: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant

MY FAVORITE WIFE is a wonderful screwball comedy starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and Gail Patrick. Irene Dunne is Ellen, who was stranded on an island for seven years.  Nick Arden (Grant), on the morning of Ellen's return, has her declared her legally dead and remarries to Bianca (Patrick). Ellen, however, refuses to give up her husband and seeks him out on his honeymoon with his bride. Hilarity ensues.
This is perhaps my favorite Grant/Dunne film. I love how Cary gets himself into deeper trouble than he's already in. It really just escalates.
Cary Grant is brilliantly funny, and so is Dunne, when she's given the chance. Gail Patrick is her usual bitchy self, and Randolph Scott is more of a piece of meat than a supporting player, but I suppose that's alright. His and Cary's chemistry is great. Probably because they were best friends and had been living together for eight years at the time the movie was released. No Cary Grant film is really terrible, but then, I'm rather dedicated. It's an enjoyable movie with a reasonably predictable plot, although very unpredictable antics. At least I think so. The ending is superb.

I bet you say that to all your wives,
LW

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Apparently, Not Anything Goes

ANYTHING GOES

Released: April 1956
Directed: Robert Lewis
Starring: Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, Jeanmaire, Mitzi Gaynor


ANYTHING GOES is one of those oft overlooked musicals of the 50's. Perhaps because the plot is a bit predictable, and at times, boring. The one song in particular that I found boring was probably Crosby's and Jeanmaire's duet, but then again, I'm not big on crooning.
ANYTHING GOES is a remake of the 1936 film and stage play, and although it takes place on an ocean liner, that's the only similarities between this film and its earlier counterparts.
Crosby is Bill Benson, an aging Broadway star. O'Connor is Ted Adams,  a fresh, young TV personality. They've been put together to star in a Broadway show, but they don't have a leading lady. Benson heads to London, Adams, Paris. In each city they meet and sign their leading lady, but they need to get rid of one. Naturally, each falls for the others choice.
Kind of predictable, but then again, one doesn't watch movie musicals for a stimulating diversion. Each song is enjoyable. Crosby sings wonderfully. O'Connor is a dancing genius. Mitzi Gaynor is dazzling, and Jeanmaire, well, I've never been able to pinpoint her exactly no matter how many times I've seen ANYTHING GOES. Maybe it's because I don't like her hair, or her French accent....
A fairly weak plot, but I've never watched ANYTHING GOES for the plot. I like the songs, plus O'Connor is in a good movie, for once. The poor kid was always put with that mule... Nice dances, songs, and general look and feel of a 50's movie musical. Don't watch if you want to see the play or 1936 film. The similarities are zero. Except that Crosby is in that film too.

I've got myself a case of moonburn,
LW

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remind Me to Go to Paris When it Sizzles

PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES

Released: April 8, 1964
Directed: Richard Quine
Starring: William Holden, Audrey Hepburn

PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES is a great film with lots of inside jokes directed at the film, or at least screenwriting, industry. For those who are film makers, screenwriters, or at least aware of and like the industry and know how, it is all the more enjoyable. You really get to "see" a film being made. In fact, PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES, is a film within a film. And this film is all over the place.
William Holden is Richard Benson, a screenwriter (playboy, drunk: his attributes are endless) who has been hired by Alexander Myerheim (Noel Coward). Benson, however, has been living it up in Paris for months. Two days before the script is due Gabrielle (Hepburn), a temporary secretary, shows up at Benson's hotel room to help him dish out a hundred and thirty eight page script. We see their disastrous effort play before our eyes and it's wonderfully funny.
PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES doesn't hold your attention too much but it's probably because it's all just a bit too much to believe. But Holden's and Hepburn's performances are fantastic. In the film within the film they look static and amateurish, but when you think up a film in your head, you're not exactly getting a Rembrandt. Critics at the time criticized the film, but Benson is writing a script in two days, he's not going to dish out the best dialogue.To sum up the film: "It's an action/suspense, uh, romantic melodrama with lots of comedy, of course. And, uh, deep down underneath, a substrata of social comment."
Look for cameos from Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer (Audrey's then husband), Frank Sinatra, and an uncredited role by Tony Curtis, or second policeman.

I thought this movie incredibly perfect for today, as it is Bastille Day, and our events take place on July 14.

As chilling a compliment as I've ever received,
LW

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Please Excuse The Women

THE WOMEN

Released: September 1, 1939
Directed: George Cukor
Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell

This film is the ultimate cat fight. At the time, THE WOMEN, was rather revolutionary. I mean there really weren't films starring only women (and I mean only) and aimed specifically towards the female audience. There are 130 female roles, and even the animals shown are girls. There are absolutely no depiction of the male sex even though the movie is all about men.
Shearer is sweet Mary Haines. Her husband, Stephen Haines, is stepping out on her with a money hungry shop girl (Crawford). In the mix is Rosalind Russell, a terrible, terrible friend, Reno, divorces, L'Amour, and witty banter, literal fights, and gorgeous women fighting over, with, or about their men.
It has taken me nearly two years to watch this film, mainly because every time I put in my tape, someone comes and kicks me out. This time I prevailed and got past the first twelve minutes. It was not exactly what I expected, mainly because I can't believe women are such terrible creatures, but let's face it, we are. It really is a delightful film by the fantastic George Cukor. It stars nearly every women available from the MGM lot at the time bar two: Greta Garbo and Myrna Loy. And the funny thing is, for the longest time I thought Loy was in this picture. A really well made film but only for those willing to see how terrible women are. Don't think it's all fighting and bitching. Lots of laughs along the way. Also, depending on which copy you see, the fashion show is in Technicolor. It throws you off, but it's nice to see the outfits in their original state.

No pride at all,
LW

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I'd Rather Go West

GO WEST

Released: September 1, 1925
Directed: Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton

Anyone who knows me is quite aware that I am positively in love with Buster Keaton. So anything made by him is first class gold in my book. But I won't let that bias my opinion (maybe).

SOME PEOPLE TRAVEL THROUGH LIFE MAKING FRIENDS WHERE EVER THEY GO, WHILE OTHERS - JUST TRAVEL THROUGH LIFE.

And thus begins GO WEST. Buster Keaton is Friendless, a friendless and hopeless, young man. Having been kicked out of his small Indiana town (metaphorically of course), he heads east, only to relocate west as the city was far too much for him. He gets a job as a cowpoke and chaos ensues.
GO WEST is not one of Buster's better feature films but it has a good few laughs and you never quite know where it's gonna go. Brown Eye's is Buster's leading lady, and let me say, they are beautiful together. As any Keaton film, it's wonderfully shot with a lot of nice jokes, but not all riotous. Let's just say, you feel for the guy. Not his best but still a Buster film. If it were funnier or the plot a bit more it would definitively be grade A. As Buster is dressed as a cowboy for most of it, (and in a wonderful costume in the end) it's a wonder I didn't swoon as I watched. My favorite gag is the gun gag. Look out for it. It's superb.

Do you need any cowboys today?
LW

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Not Our Mister Roberts

MISTER ROBERTS

Released: July 30, 1955
Directed: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon

Henry Fonda is Mister Roberts, Cagney the tyrant of a captain, Powell, in his last film role, is the 'Doc', and Lemmon is Ensign Pulver, the lazy junior officer that shares his cabin with Fonda. MISTER ROBERTS is quite a realistic look at the Navy. It has its laughs, but it also strikes a cord deep in everyone who's ever had to deal with tyrannical, arrogant, people. Cagney is just plain awful (in the good way), Powell is the wise old man, and Roberts is the glue that holds the ship together.
It's nearing the end of WWII and Roberts wants to be transferred from the cargo ship to the 'action.' He constantly tries to get transferred via letters, but Captain Morton always rejects them. The two blatantly hate each other. But it is plain to see that Roberts is what keeps the ship together.
Jack Lemmon won best supporting actor for his role as Pulver, which he so justly deserves.
Definitively a must see film. Great actors, great story, and a wonderful insight at the men who didn't fight, but helped us win the war.

What's all this crud about no movie tonight?
LW

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I've Got That Funny Feeling

THAT FUNNY FEELING

Released: August 25,1965
Directed: Richard Thorpe
Starring: Sandra Dee, Bobby Darin, Donald O'Connor

So I'll admit it. I only watched this film for O'Connor but I actually kind of enjoyed this flick. It's a little bit of conservative (well it's not like HEAD) 1960's fluff. It has a predictable plot and only a few really laugh out loud moments.
Dee plays Joan Howell, a pretty young maid who meets Tom Milford (Darin, Dee's then real life husband) and rather than have him drop her off at her dumpy apartment, she has him drop her off at his apartment. Milford, of course, is terribly confused and goes along with the gag for quite some time. Donald O'Connor adds most of the humour but Dee and Darin get their share. A good example would be Darin's phone booth scene (he's in the phone booth in only his underwear and some old women are accusing him of stealing a dime), and Dee's interactions with the bartenders and pawn shop owner.
An average story makes for an average film. If you're looking to see O'Connor, he's not much in it. But just the same, a good background film or something to watch when you can't go to sleep. It offers humour and the general romantic comedy mush.

Fairweather friend,
LW

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't Lose Your Head

HEAD

Released: November 6, 1968
Directed: Bob Rafelson
Starring: Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith

First off, this is a Monkees film. If you don't know who the Monkees are, I don't know why any one would want to be your friend. That said...
HEAD is not for the queasy, epileptic, or plot focused movie goers. It is an 85 minute romp filled with tiny stories, songs, and our favorite, neighborhood Monkees. The first few minutes are rather serious and leave you wondering where this flick is leading. Less than a minute and a half in, a soldier makes a face while saluting. That's the only hint that this film isn't all there. That, and the fact that the mayor doesn't know how to work a microphone. This is soon followed by Micky jumping off the bridge with the other fellas close behind.
And thus begins the psychedelic music, colors, and short stories. Every Monkee has at least one little story or 'adventure' to themselves. They each have at least one song to their name. There are cameos by a handful of stars, including, but not limited to: Toni Basil, Frank Zappa, and Victor Mature. The theatrical release was shortened from the 110 minutes to the 85 we have now, and I can't help but wonder what genius was cut out of this film.

As a huge fan of The Monkees (and being very open minded as well as being well versed in hippie/60's culture), I give this film two thumbs up and a very loud round of applause. I love it that much. It's pointless, kind of like their show; the music is fantasmic; Mike Nesmith was never sexier; the 'Daddy's Song' dance sequence is far out; and it's very satirical. They poke fun at film genres, actors, business, advertising, and even themselves. There's a bunch of war footage, which is tied in with the music or skits. Of course, not all Monkee fans like this film, but it has amassed a cult following of which I am a member.

For everyone else who wants a movie with substance, thou hast been warned. This isn't a movie to be watched under the influence of any drug or caffeine. You can easily skip through it to listen to the music or watch little tidbits, such as Micky in the desert, or the dandruff commercial. Except now that I told you these things, you might skip the movie entirely. But don't.

If anything, buy the movie soundtrack which is out of this world. I love Circle Sky, but then again, I'm madly in love with Mike Nesmith. I'm sure you know how I feel about ELEPHANT PARTS. Some of this has probably gone over your head, but that's alright. I'm used to it.


Quiet, isn't it?
LW

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Man Godfrey Had Six Kids

MY MAN GODFREY

Released: September 17, 1936
Directed: Gregory La Cava
Starring: William Powell, Carole Lombard

MY MAN GODFREY illustrates almost perfectly the cause of the Great Depression. Of course, only those looking for it will find it. This screwball comedy is filled with so much humour and great acting that you won't bother answering history questions.
Irene Bullock (Lombard) is a scatterbrained, blonde socialite who finds a 'forgotten man' (Powell) and makes him her family butler. Her older sister, played by Gail Patrick, is a stuck up, spoiled brat who's out to get our Godfrey. Their brainless mother, her ape impersonating protege, and a grouchy dad make for amusing characters and help you understand the importance of Godfrey to the Bullock family.
This is a true gem among gems. A must see for the true lovers of Golden Era films or just a casual observer. Then again, I'm kind of biased. I have mad love for William Powell and his little mustache. Carole Lombard is perhaps the queen of screwball comedies, and she's brilliant as ditzy Irene. This movie was made three years after Lombard and Powell divorced, and Powell stated that he thought the Godfrey/Irene relationship was much like their own. It's a nice insight. Also, see if you can spot a young Jane Wyman as a socialite.

It'll all be over in a minute,
LW

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Der Bingle Double Feature

WAIKIKI WEDDING

Released: March 23, 1937
Directed: Frank Tuttle
Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Burns, Martha Raye, Shirley Ross

Bing Crosby plays Tony Marvin, a PR for the Imperial Pineapple Co. in Hawaii. His leading lady is Shirley Ross with comic relief provided by Martha Raye and Bob Burns. The movie is light on plot but thick on music and some laughs. Martha Raye provides most of the comedy, but she's a bit too dumb and her mouth too wide for my liking. It's a good film to see Hawaiian culture (or Hollywood's version of it) at the time. The songs are good, but the film is highly predictable. Crosby and Ross lack chemistry and their romance seems very forced. Not for casual watchers. To be honest, this one should be reserved for the truly dedicated. Look for a young Anthony Quinn as Komo.


DOUBLE OR NOTHING

Released: September 17, 1937
Directed: Theodore Reed
Starring: Bing Crosby, Martha Raye

This film is much better than WAIKIKI WEDDING, in that it actually has a plot. Following the death of an eccentric millionaire, his lawyers drop wallets on the streets of New York, as a provision of his will, and offers those who return the wallet a deal. Whomever can double 5,000 dollars within a month, gets his estate. Bing is one of those contestants as is Martha Raye (surprise, surprise). You might also notice a young William Frawley (Fred in I Love Lucy) and Andy Devine (known for his role as 'Cookie', sidekick to Roy Rogers). This film is much better in that we follow the excursions of these characters, rather than another crooning Bing movie. Not a bad flick if it's on TV, but you wouldn't go around looking for it hopelessly as I tend to do with certain actors who shalt not be named. Great supporting actors and an actual story to pull things together. There's a 'sing' band, genuinely funny antics, and shadow puppetry.

Crooning away,
LW

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Curse of Easy Living

EASY LIVING

Released: July 7, 1937
Directed: Mitchell Leisen
Starring: Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland

This screwball comedy should not be confused with the 1949 film of the same name. This EASY LIVING is much funnier. Trust me.
EASY LIVING stars Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, and Ray Milland. I love this movie because it has one of my two favorite stars: Arthur and Milland.
Jean just came off a huge hit (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) the year before and her next three films paired her with James Stewart and Cary Grant.Thus far her career has been pretty successful, and you can tell she's having a lot of fun with this film.
Jean Arthur plays Mary Smith, a career girl who has a fur coat fall into her lap: literally. J.B. Ball (Arnold), who sees her trying to find the owner, gives it to her, offers her a ride in his car, and buys her a new hat, which was damaged when the coat fell on her. This one good deed leads to Mary Smith being taken for Ball's mistress, and that's where the trouble starts. Everyone wants to house her, buy her things, sell things to her, and ask her to ask Ball about the stock exchange. Add to the mix, the handsome and charming Johnny Ball Jr. (Milland) and you've got a wonderfully delightful screwball comedy.

To be honest, I've always loved this film. Ray Milland is as handsome as ever and Jean is at her best. It's a good escapist film and makes me wish the third richest banker in America would give me a fur coat. I'd yell at him for killing an animal for their fur, but still. You get to see great chemistry between Arthur and Milland, Arnold falling all over himself, and the murder of a pig(gy bank).

A sight for an eyesore,
LW

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Girl Can't Help It.... Or Can She?


THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT

Released: December 1, 1956
Directed: Frank Tashlin
Starring: Tom Ewell, Jayne Mansfield, Edmond O'Brien

Originally a satire about teenagers and rock n' roll music, and even poking fun at gangster films, THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, has become the most cherished movie about rock n' roll music. It showcases performances by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Julie London, Eddie Cochran, Eddie Fontaine, etc, etc, etc.
So what's this flick about? Well Tom Ewell (the adorably mousy looking actor) plays a press agent turned  alcoholic. He's called up by Mary "Fats" Murdock (O'Brien) to turn his frightfully attractive girlfriend (Mansfield) into a singing star. Because according to Fats: He "can't marry a nobody."

I rewatched it last night and I remembered how much I like it. One of the great things about this movie is the performances done by the singers. The movie really is a celebration of rock n' roll and the pioneers who paved the way for future music. It's also great to see Jayne Mansfield in her first starring role. Jayne Mansfield, the woman, is very similar to Georgiana/Jerri. She's only seen as a dumb blonde, but really she has a brain and able to make decisions and care for herself and others.
The movie intended to be a sex vehicle for Mansfield as well as a satire which it is. There are several close ups of Mansfield's... assets, but I find it a bit satirical in itself. Fats is a down and out gangster which pokes fun at once proud gangsters and the lifestyle they lead.
All in all, I recommend this film to everyone. It's a great classic and THE rock n' roll movie. It's also nice to see the reaction American culture had on rock n' roll, and vice versa.

I just can't help it,
LW