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Scene of the Crime (1949)
Is it just me, or is this dud noir from 1949 ridiculously hard to follow.
In fairness, I was watching this when I was a little sleepy, so I might not have been paying close attention. Also in fairness, many noirs are difficult to follow; you don't really watch them for the plot as much as to soak up the atmosphere. But "Scene of the Crime" doesn't have any atmosphere, so there isn't anything to make up for the convoluted story.
A car explodes at one point, so at least there's that.....
The Social Dilemma (2020)
Some Good Ideas Buried Under Poor Execution
I spent the first half of "The Social Dilemma," the documentary everyone's talking about, thinking "Is there anybody who doesn't already know this?"
What a shocker -- social media companies want to make money off of people and manipulate them into becoming addicted to social media. Apparently this is a shock, though, since a whole bunch of people who formerly worked for social media companies appear and tell us with earnest seriousness how this news came as a total surprise to them. Later, the film starts to explore ideas that are much more compelling, like the ability social media has to shape people's perceptions of the world they live in, or the depression and anxiety it can create in users. But many of these ideas are half baked, and instead we have to sit through lengthy and silly dramatizations illustrating how social media tears one suburban family apart. These scenes are so ridiculous that I couldn't even tell if they were supposed to be satire or not. Whatever they are, they're certainly unnecessary, and they make the film feel much longer than it needs to be.
"The Social Dilemma" feels like a documentary made for people who don't normally watch documentaries.
Enola Holmes (2020)
Not the Target Audience
I acknowledge that I'm not the target audience for this movie, but come on, it still could have been more entertaining than it was.
"Enola Holmes" is a heavy handed girl power movie that awkwardly tries to jam a 21st century female empowerment theme into a corset. The movie is annoyingly aware of itself -- the main actress is always looking straight into the camera, winking and smirking and talking to the audience like we're part of the action -- but not good enough to pull it off. The movie wants to have its cake and eat it too. Enola is a feminist role model for young girls yet the movie still seems to find a way to stick her tomboy character in a restrictive Victorian gown so that she can look pretty. It's ok, you see, because she CHOOSES to wear the dress as part of a disguise. She then proceeds to do martial arts while wearing the dress, which pretty much negates every point the movie made up to that point in time about how corsets were just one convention society engineered to keep women contained in their place.
Young girls might like this movie. Maybe?.....
Grand Prix (1966)
Hollywood Road Show Treatment Strikes Again
I happened to watch "The Sand Pebbles" and "Grand Prix" in the same weekend. While I mostly wish I could have that time (6+ hours!) back, the exercise did sort of peak my interest in the 1960s Hollywood phenomenon known as the road show. This was the industry's misguided attempt at giving audiences a reason to come to the cinema and pay exorbitant prices for the privilege. The idea of just making really good movies never seemed to occur to anyone, so they instead made a bunch of mediocre to outright bad ones, made them really long, and added an overture and entr'acte for good measure to give people the feeling they were attending live theater.
The result is that every movie ended up looking like an epic, even when the subject matter didn't warrant epic treatment. Take "Grand Prix" for example. This whiff of a plot about race car drivers could have been ably serviced in a slick 90 minutes, but here it's stretched out over more than three hours. The plot can pretty much be summarized as follows: will Yves Montand or James Garner win the big race, and does anyone really care? The lovely Eva Marie Saint is wasted in a thankless role, while the absolutely stunning Jessica Walter repeatedly left me with my jaw hanging on the floor -- she is the definition of a certain kind of 1960s sexiness. Sadly, she was not enough to keep my attention from drifting as this movie meandered into its third hour.
There's a hard to define weirdness about this movie. It recreates the feeling of actually being at some of the parties and little get togethers staged on the screen, with people just wandering around a room chit chatting with each other. It's kind of like a Robert Altman movie without all of the hilarious eccentricities he manages to pull from the improvisation. Maybe that's it -- this movie at times is like watching an entirely improvised script with actors who don't know how to improvise.
The film looks sensational though. I know it's famous for how it was filmed, and even on a small home screen you can tell how amazing it probably looked in Cinerama. It won Oscars for Sound and Sound Effects, and frequent use of kaleidoscopic split screens also nabbed it the award for Film Editing.
Director John Frankenheimer brings a lot of excitement to the race scenes. It's a shame he couldn't do the same for all the other scenes as well.
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Road Show Treatment Torpedoes Another One
"The Sand Pebbles" is one of many examples of how the roadshow treatment so popular in the 1960s torpedoed what might otherwise have been decent films.
Buried somewhere in the gargantuan running time of this film is a compelling character study of a reluctant hero, the kind of role Steve McQueen was born to play. But this had to be a BIG movie, so this intimate portrait that could have been nicely dealt with in a 90-minute film gets shunted aside to make way for lots of panoramic shots of foreign scenery and subplots that grind the film's momentum to a halt. It all looks pretty, but it's so funereally paced by director Robert Wise that I challenge you to stay awake long enough to absorb it all.
The best part of the movie is McQueen's relationship with one of the Chinese who works for him, played by the actor Mako. Unfortunately, in the film's only memorable and urgent moment, Mako's character leaves the film before the intermission, leaving us another hour and a half of wooden acting from Candace Bergen and a love story involving Richard Attenborough that's a stale retread of "Sayonara."
The version I saw didn't even have the overture and entr'acte, which would have added even more running time to the movie.
"The Sand Pebbles" fooled enough people into thinking it was big enough to be important, and it was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1966, though it won nothing: Best Picture, Best Actor (McQueen), Best Supporting Actor (Mako), Best Art Direction (Color), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound. Ironically, Robert Wise received the Irving G. Thalberg Award that year, when one of his worst efforts was competing for major prizes. Even the Academy couldn't be buffaloed into nominating him for Best Director for this glacier masquerading as a movie.
The Hospital (1971)
A Warm Up to "Network"
"The Hospital" feels like a warm up to "Network," the classic satire that would come out five years later.
Both were written by Paddy Chayefsky and both suffer a little bit from age. But "Network" still feels prescient and sharp as a tack in its lampooning of news media, while "The Hospital" feels messy and confused in its lampooning of...what...the American medical system? America in general?
That's the problem with "The Hospital." I wasn't entirely sure what Chayefsky was criticizing. The movie is at its best, and funniest, when it's a straight up satire about the running of an urban hospital. For example, one of the most memorable scenes is one in which an unfazed nurse wanders around the emergency room obliviously asking bleeding, doubled over patients to fill out insurance forms. But there are all these other plot strands involving the mid-life crisis of the hospital's director (George C. Scott) and his romance with the hippie-dippie daughter of one of the hospital's patients; and protests against the hospital's plan to appropriate housing from poor members of the community; and a mysterious serial killer offing doctors and nurses. This last storyline is tantalizing at first, but Chayefsky wraps it up in a thuddingly literal, murder mystery way, and it turns out to be stupid.
Scott is terrific and received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance, but it's a case of a good performance being hampered by mediocre material. He brilliantly commands the first couple of scenes he's in, but he's eventually undermined by the screenplay and his performance loses impact the longer the movie goes on.
I'm clearly in the minority, though, for thinking that the screenplay is the weakest link in "The Hospital." Chayefsky won the Original Story and Screenplay Oscar in 1971 for this movie.
Von Ryan's Express (1965)
What Was It with Train Movies in the 1960s?
1965 saw two train escape movies. One was "The Train," the ultimate at-least-you-know-what-the-movie's-about title, and the other was the much more creatively monikered "Von Ryan's Express." The latter film more closely resembles a good old-fashioned Hollywood action movie, maybe because it's in color and Cinemascope, but both films have their bleak moments.
In "Von Ryan's Express," Frank Sinatra plays an American soldier shot down in Italy and interred in a prisoner of war camp mostly full of and run by the British. They commandeer a transport train and take off for the Swiss border and freedom, sort of like the last half of "The Sound of Music" but without music, nuns, or Julie Andrews. Trevor Howard is a pain in Sinatra's ass, because he wants to be in charge and doesn't think Sinatra ever knows what he's doing. It's all pretty entertaining if not groundbreaking action movie tropes.
Of the two films, "The Train" is probably the more artistically satisfying of the two, though I have to say I was probably more straight up entertained by "Von Ryan's Express." Both of the them competed for an Oscar in 1965, the first for Best Original Story and Screenplay and the second in the minor category of Sound Effects.
The V.I.P.s (1963)
Who Cares About Rich People?
A bunch of rich swells all need to catch a plane from Heathrow to New York or various bad things, mostly involving the loss of money, will happen to them. Oh heavens, what are we to do?
The main story revolves around Elizabeth Taylor wanting to leave Richard Burton for Louis Jourdan. That seems like a pretty fair trade, especially because Burton is a psycho who threatens to shoot her and then himself if she won't stay with him. What woman could resist such a romantic gesture?
Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith steal the show as a business tycoon and his girl Friday secretary, who saves his skin and then is rewarded by getting to bang him. Taylor was pretty studly, so again, not a bad turn of events for Smith. I was just disappointed that he never got a chance to show off that famous hairy chest, the one I would go gay for.
Orson Welles is an Italian film director who needs to flee England for tax reasons. Welles must have found out this movie was being made and then paid somebody to put him in it. It clearly wasn't the screenwriter, because his character literally has nothing to do.
Margaret Rutherford won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as an English duchess, or countess, or something. In the grand tradition of Oscar winning performances she's not really deserving, but Americans think doddering English ladies are just delightful, so I'm not surprised she won.
I immediately decided I wasn't going to have sympathy for any of these people as soon as I saw the airport lounge they all get to hang out in until the fog clears. It's nicer than my house.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Solid Comedy That Holds Up Well
I somehow never got around to seeing "My Cousin Vinny" when it originally came out, and only just recently watched it when looking for something mindless and funny to remove me for a couple of hours from a COVID and Trump plagued world.
Well, this movie did the trick. It's really entertaining and pretty funny. It's one of those comedies that's extremely well written and makes you realize how important a good screenplay is if a comedy is to have staying power. Joe Pesci is hilarious, and of course Marisa Tomei won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Pesci's fiance. I know Tomei's win was controversial and considered by many to be undeserved. But as I was watching this, I was thinking about how easy it would have been for Vanessa Redgrave or Miranda Richardson or Joan Plowright or Judy Davis (her competition that year) to step in and do this role. It's a reminder of how difficult comedy is to do well and how underappreciated comedic performances are because usually the people in them make them look so easy.
Also with Mr. Herman Munster himself, Fred Gwynne, who gives a very funny and very dead pan performance in his own right.
An Ok Jason Statham Movie
A just ok Jason Statham movie that relies too much on repetitive gun violence and not enough on Statham's brand of action movie heroics. I want to see him beating people up and doing cool, choreographed stunts. Instead, this movie is just one shoot 'em up scene after another with little variation. It's all numbing after awhile, and at the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I just can't enjoy gun violence like this in movies anymore, especially not when it's treated as casually as it is here.
The Entertainer (1960)
Kitchen Sink Films Don't Do It for Me
Eh, these British kitchen sink movies from the 1950s and 1960s I guess just don't do it for me.
Laurence Olivier acts up a storm and won a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a washed up music hall performer in this dreary, depressing snapshot of post-WWII England. Joan Plowright is his daughter, and the bulk of the movie is about her navigating her contentious relationship with her dad. There are also some plot threads about one brother who's gone off to fight in a war and another brother who works for their dad's ailing musical revue. Like all of these kitchen sink films, the emphasis is on how depressing everything is. There's absolutely no levity, and no real reason to care about what happens to any of these sad people.
These movies tapped into a certain psychological state affecting Britain in the years after the war, a topic that I actually find interesting and worth exploring. But I have yet to completely enjoy one of the movies that resulted from it. I really felt my attention wandering during this one.
Twisty Turny Thriller
A twisty turny thriller from Sidney Lumet that's a lot of fun.
Michael Caine is excellent as a blocked writer who hatches the diabolical scheme of murdering a young playwright (Christopher Reeve) so he can steal his terrific new play and pass it off as his own. But that's just the beginning. From there, it's a game of who's conning who and what's the next plot twist going to be?
Reeve is surprisingly fantastic in this. I say surprisingly because I never gave him much credit as a serious actor, but he's really good in this playing a wide range of emotions. Dyan Cannon rounds out the trio of stars, and while she's good with what she's given to do, I couldn't help but wish the original play upon which this movie is based (or the screen adaptation for that matter) had given her some plot twists of her own.
Just a really good bit of escapist fun.
Chipper Valentine from Ingmar Bergman
Another chipper valentine of a movie from Ingmar Bergman. Light a fire, cozy up with a loved one, and spend a romantic evening together with the ultimate date night movie.
Seriously though, "The Virgin Spring" is an excellent film, but sheesh. What a brutal, nearly nihilistic movie this is. In a plot that might seem very familiar to a bunch of people who have seen "The Last House on the Left," a young, virginal woman is raped and murdered out in the woods, and then her attackers find themselves being given food and shelter in her family's home. Once the dad (Max von Sydow in an intense and bracing performance) discovers who they are, he exacts his revenge.
This movie is about how awful human beings can be to one another, and how very feeble religious convictions about being good and kind are when up against some of the terrible things the world will throw at us. The only thing that will keep the film from being utterly demoralizing for most viewers is the ending, but I found it to be a noxious load of crap. It reminded me of the feeling I had after watching "Breaking the Waves," where a couple of hours of what felt like torture porn was capped with and ending in which we're told the suffering and casual disposal of a young woman is worth it because it brings those around her closer to God. Yuck.
So I can't deny that this movie is excellently made, and it may be very powerful for those who have religious faith. As for me, I could admire the filmmaking but felt punished by the movie and was glad it wasn't any longer.
Footlight Parade (1933)
Kind of Hated This Movie
Most users seem to think this movie is really good, which I guess leaves me in the minority, because I kind of hated it.
This is one of those "putting on a show" stories with elaborate and bonkers musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley. It's completely nonsensical. James Cagney plays a director of song and dance shows who's fallen on hard times because sound has arrived in movies and everyone would rather go see films. So he decides there's a lot of money in pre-movie prologues, which are short live shows that would appear before the movie started. A competition strikes up between Cagney and another creator of prologues, both vying for a contract with a motion picture distributor. This results in a big finale in which we get to see three of the prologues Cagney has concocted, all of them ridiculously long, and none of them remotely believable as something that could actually be staged in a movie theater.
Was this even a thing? The whole premise of the movie seems like something the ten-year-old kid of one of the movie's producers came up with as an excuse to string a lot of musical numbers together. Characters come and go, as do plot strands, none of which are developed or come to any resolution. Ruby Keeler's appeal utterly mystifies me. I have never seen anyone known for dancing look so heavy on their feet. She clomps around with Dick Powell a bit and they have kind of an off-stage romance. The reason I watched the movie in the first place was Joan Blondell, but she's completely wasted in a role that requires her to sit around and mope while all of the other actors in the film have more fun. If acid trip production numbers are what you're after, you'll get your money's worth, as Berkeley spares no expense. About mid-way through the film we get a glimpse of another of Cagney's prologues, this one with a cat theme, which includes a duet featuring Keeler and some other dude both wearing leggings and cat costumes while warbling on top of a fence. Maybe this is where Andrew Lloyd Webber got his idea.
Blonde Crazy (1931)
Watched or Blondell
James Cagney and Joan Blondell team up to fleece fellow con men in this depression era Warners film.
I came for Blondell, only to find that she's sadly underused. I like Cagney a lot, and his screen presence can make even mediocre material entertaining, as it does here. But Blondell could be a firecracker, and failing to take full advantage of her is like setting out a pumpkin pie for dessert and then forgetting to also bring out the whipped cream to go with it.
Mind Officially Blown
Charlie Kaufman channels David Lynch in this eerie, creepy relationship drama that really knows how to get under your skin.
Jessie Buckley, who gave an award-worthy performance in "Wild Rose" last year, does so again here, as a woman meeting her boyfriend's parents for the first time. Much of the film takes place in his car, as they travel to and from his childhood home in an Oklahoma blizzard. These scenes give Buckley and Jessie Plemmons, also giving a terrific performance as her boyfriend, long exchanges of dialogue that tease out the dynamic of this particular relationship, and the dynamic between men and women in general, and a dissection of the film "A Woman Under the Influence" (Buckley recites Pauline Kael's review of the film in character as Gena Rowlands), and includes a stop at an isolated ice cream stand, the film's most Lynchian moment, where a girl with a rash gives Buckley a vague warning. Much of the rest of the film takes place in Plemmons' parents house, where David Thewlis and Toni Collette play versions of Plemmons' mom and dad at all ages, from perky housewife to doddering dementia to dying in a hospital bed, and host perhaps one of the most awkward dinners ever to appear in a film. Then there are the scenes set in Plemmons' old high school, where a janitor (Plemmons as an old man?) roams the halls and doubles of Buckley and Plemmons reenact the ballet scene from "Oklahoma!" in the school corridors.
What is "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" about? If that's the first question you ask before deciding whether or not to watch a movie, you won't like this one. I imagine different people will think it's about different things. Certainly it's about getting old. It's also about getting old without the comfort of believing that life has any purpose, or that there's anything waiting for us in the great beyond. It's about women and their relationships with men. It's about Jessie Buckley's character. Until it's not and it's instead about Jessie Plemmons' character, who gets the final scene of the film all to himself, a rendition of the song "Lonely Room" (again from "Oklahoma!") during which he comes to the conclusion that the fantasies on which we build our lives don't exist and we have to take whatever we can to most closely approximate them. It's a claustrophobic and deeply unsettling film, as much because of its aesthetics as because of its enigmatic mysteries.
Is it a good film? I think it's very good, but I will admit that it didn't linger in my head as much as I thought it would while I was watching it. It kind of made my skin crawl in the moment, but it left me feeling like I was going to get all there was to get from it on a first viewing, and it didn't leave me wanting to watch it again to untangle its riddles.
Sons and Lovers (1960)
Fair Attempt at Adapting D.H. Lawrence
D.H. Lawrence got the CinemaScope treatment in 1960 in this adaptation of his 1913 novel. The result is a not half bad movie, even if it provides further evidence that Lawrence was difficult to adapt to the screen.
His contributions to modern literature aside, I think D.H. Lawrence is just downright silly to read much of the time, and that silliness is usually amplified when actors try to bring his characters to life on screen. The most egregious example is Ken Russell's bold but quite awful adaptation of "Women in Love" from 1970, which is one of the best bad movies you'll ever see because of how unintentionally hilarious it all is. "Sons and Lovers" as a novel is more subdued to begin with, so the movie adaptation fairs much better. It looks fantastic under cinematographer-turned-director Jack Cardiff. Probably because he was a cinematographer first, Cardiff knows how to use wide screen CinemaScope to his advantage, and he brings a real sense of place to this small mining town at the beginning of the 20th Century. Dean Stockwell is quite good as Paul Morel, while Trevor Howard and Mary Ure were singled out with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations, respectively, for playing Paul's alcoholic father and the married woman with whom he strikes up an affair. If we're being honest, Howard's is really a supporting role, but perhaps the Academy wanted a chance to recognize him for the numerous fine screen performances he'd given before this. Mary Ure is breathtaking; I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Puzzling is that the best performance in the film comes from Wendy Hiller as Paul's overbearing mum, yet she's the one who received no attention from the Academy. And it's not like competition was just so fierce that year that there was no room for her. Elizabeth Taylor won for "Butterfield 8" for Pete's sake.
"Sons and Lovers" won the Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography courtesy of Freddie Francis, and in addition to its acting nominations found itself also competing for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Art Direction (B&W). It's somewhat surprising to me that it did quite so well with the Academy, as it's a perfectly solid movie but nothing spectacular, and certainly not Best Picture worthy.
Boze Cialo (2019)
Good Premise for a Screwball Comedy
"Corpus Christi" sounds on paper like it could be a screwball comedy: a young man recently paroled from juvenile detention becomes the substitute priest in a small town through a case of mistaken identity. The punchline is that he's really good at being a priest and the parishioners like him -- that is until his younger, more liberal attitudes and his experience as a troubled youth begin to rub them the wrong way when he wants them to heal the festering wounds that resulted from a town tragedy from the recent past.
This is not a comedy though, not even close. First of all, it's Polish. So that should tell you something right there. Secondly, there's not a laugh to be found in this somber story. I admired everything about this movie, but there was just some intangible ingredient missing that would otherwise allow me to recommend it enthusiastically. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing great about it either.
The ending is shocking and bleak, and will probably leave people thinking. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
Nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 2019 Academy Awards.
One Girl's Confession (1953)
Another Hugo Haas Gem
I've decided that Hugo Haas is one of the undiscovered gems of film noir.
He had a knack for making quirky little movies that are tons of fun and as casting himself in likable and memorable roles. He also managed to get terrific performances out of mostly unknown actresses. In this one, that actress is Cleo Moore, who reminded me for the entire movie of a blonde, 1950s version of Marcia Gay Harden. She plays a young woman who steals some money, fesses up, spends time in jail, then goes back to get the money, which she hid away in a forest, once she's released. But the interference of her bar owner boss (played by Haas) complicates things, and we wonder for a while if she'll ever recover the money.
I was really rooting for her to, since she ends up being such a winning character. She's basically a really good person, even if she's got a noirish femme fatale attitude. Every time she does something wrong, she immediately confesses to it, a recurring detail that I thought was pretty funny, whether intentionally so or not. There's also a hunkadoodle sailor played by Glenn Langan, he of the manly, hirsute forearms, but he doesn't have much to do except stand next to Moore every so often, towering over her and looking like he wants to rip her clothes off. One can't really blame him.
This is just a really fun little pot boiler.
Night Editor (1946)
Barely Remember This Movie....And I Saw It a Few Days Ago
I came here to log a review of "Night Editor," a B noir from 1946, and realized I could barely remember enough about it to muster a comment. That maybe wouldn't be so surprising if I hadn't watched it just a few days ago. So I guess that's my review -- this movie is so unremarkable that you can barely remember having watched it three days later.
The screenplay chooses a framing device that has most of the movie being told as a series of flashbacks. This device doesn't much make sense until the very end, when we realize it sets us up for a mild surprise, which is the only thing that comes close to being memorable about the movie.
The Young Philadelphians (1959)
Definition of Soap Opera
"The Young Philadelphians" is like an entire thirty-year soap opera crammed into one two-hour movie.
Paul Newman had my wife salivating as a young hotshot attorney who learns to balance his ambition with his morals. She couldn't decide if he was hotter as a sweaty construction worker in an early scene or as a dapper man about town in a tux later in the film. I think she would have thought he was hot if he had appeared wrapped in newspaper. But if fetching females are more your thing, no worries, as Barbara Rush is incredibly appealing as his love interest. They have sizzling chemistry in their first scenes together, which makes it a bit of a disappointment when Rush falls out of the film for long periods of time, and their contentious relationship is one of the movie's more tiresome story lines.
Robert Vaughn received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for playing Newman's dissolute friend who he ends up defending in a murder trial. Vaughn gets to play most of his scenes as an unshaven raving alcoholic, so no wonder he was nominated for an Oscar. The best actual performance in the movie, or at least the most memorable one, probably comes from Billie Burke in a small role as a goofy society lady who deftly steals the movie right out from under everybody just by making smoochy faces at her dog.
This is an entertaining yarn of a movie, but don't expect to be too intellectually taxed.
"The Young Philadelphians" was also nominated for Best Black & White Cinematography and Costume Design, back when it was common to nominate costume designers for creating attractive evening wear in contemporary movies.
The Young Lions (1958)
Good Lord, what an interminable movie "The Young Lions" is.
Following the stories of three different men, two American and one German, and how they are impacted by the events of WWII, the film is a showcase for Marlon Brando as a Nazi with a conscience, and when the movie focuses on him, it's halfway decent. But the other two thirds of the movie follow Montgomery Clift, as a Jewish man who faces prejudice in the U.S. Army, and Dean Martin, as a who even knows why he's in the movie? Clift was an outstanding actor, but this film came out after his famous accident, and he just sadly was not the same. Martin was not an outstanding actor, and his presence in this film feels so out of place as to be comical.
"The Young Lions" just goes on and on forever, each scene feeling like a long, sluggish movie all by itself. The three story lines converge in an anti-climactic ending that really could have come 90 minutes sooner.
Nominated for three Academy Awards in 1958: Best Cinematography (B&W), Best Dramatic or Comedy Score, and Best Sound.
Saint Frances (2019)
The Rare Female Driven Movie
Watching a movie like "Saint Frances" reminds a viewer how rarely we're treated to a truly female-driven movie. Oh sure, there are plenty of movies starring women, a few even (gasp!) directed by them, and lots that purport to be about women's "issues," whatever that means. But it's very rare to have a movie created by women, starring women, and about topics that mostly affect only women and in which the presence or lack thereof of male characters is largely irrelevant to the central issue.
"Saint Frances" isn't a great movie, but it's a very good one and feels in its own unambitious way like something fresh among a sea of mediocre movies. Writer and star Kelly O'Sullivan creates a character who some viewers are sure to dislike and judge, but it's also a character that feels authentic and complex and real and like, you know, the way actual real people are instead of the way they're depicted in lots of other carefully scripted films. The movie has a preoccupation with the biology of women in general and with menstrual blood in particular, and it's to the film's credit that it treats with matter-of-fact seriousness things (like periods, breast feeding, and other things that only women experience) that are used as the butts of jokes in our popular culture or otherwise inexplicably treated with outright disgust. It commits that sin common to feel-good indie movies of wanting to wrap up everything a bit too neatly with a shiny bow, but the sin isn't so egregious in this movie as to ruin the overall experience of watching it.
I also got a kick out of the fact that the movie is set in and was filmed, at least partially, in Evanston, Illinois, which is where I live. It was really fun recognizing locations and dissecting how accurately the film captured life in such a liberal progressive community.
Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
Somebody Sure Didn't Like This Movie
Somebody up there may feel just fine about me, but somebody down here, namely me, sure didn't like this movie very much.
Paul Newman plays real-life boxer Rocky Graziano in this biopic about the athlete's transformation from troubled youth to sporting legend. Newman was still fairly young as an actor, which is why I'll forgive him for delivering a pretty bad performance. He overacts to the high heavens and director Robert Wise isn't successful at restraining him. I might be a biased audience, because I don't like boxing at all and I can't stand biopics. One might ask me, then, why I bothered to watch this movie in the first place. I'll tell you....because it was nominated for a few Academy Awards and I find it interesting to watch movies the Academy has singled out for recognition over the years. Granted, this only won in the more minor categories of black and white art direction and cinematography and received an additional nomination for film editing, but still.
By the end I was so bored I could barely pay attention anymore. One bright spot in the movie is the performance of Eileen Heckart as Graziano's put-upon momma.
When Worlds Collide (1951)
Only Attractive People Please
A strange new planet and its accompanying star are going to pass close to Earth and cause some serious problems. I mean, like, really serious ones. The kind of problems that win special effects artists Academy Awards. But not to worry. A team of scientists has a plan to launch a rocket full of people into space and.....get this.....land on the new planet as it passes by, repopulating the human race elsewhere.
As I write this in September of 2020, one might ask why we would want to recreate the human race somewhere else, but this was 1951, when people still naively thought the human race was worth saving. Only really attractive people are allowed to travel to this new planet, so the movie casts the extremely attractive Barbara Rush and Richard Derr, who's like a hunkadoodle version of Danny Kaye. Dr. Strangelove was clearly onto something.
This film obviously laid the blueprint for all sorts of disaster movies in the decades to come. As mentioned, it won the Oscar for Best Special Effects without having any competition -- for a few years there in the early 1950s, the Special Effects Oscar was just given to a movie that most deserved it rather than to a winner among a list of nominees. "When Worlds Collide" was also nominated for a Best Color Cinematography Oscar, the photography courtesy of many-times-nominated W. Howard Greene and John F. Seitz. Speaking of cinematography, the film was directed by Rudolph Mate, who was a five-time Oscar nominee for cinematography himself at the time he made this film.