Wednesday, April 30, 2014

People Say the Darcyest Things. Austenland: A Review


AUSTENLAND

I have never read the Shannon Hale novel on which Austenland is based.  I am not the person to which to judge how close the movie was to the book.  There IS an idea somewhere in the film's story, for a spoofing of the women who mistake Austen's literary figures who are smitten with the idea of Mr. Darcy (and Colin Firth's interpretation) that they soon substitute fantasy for reality.

As a side note, I suspect this is one of the reasons why, despite my best efforts, I am still unmarried.  Women prefer the fantasy of a Mr. Darcy, of an EDWARD CULLEN, of a Christian Grey, over the highly flawed but still living, breathing men around them.

There is also rich source material in turning an author's output into a theme park, a 'Fantasy Island' for the book club set.  Austenland, therefore, has at least a springboard from which to bounce from into being a great romantic comedy.  Unfortunately, it could never figure its way around being either a spoof or a more serious feature, which pushes it down (though not enough to be dreadful).

Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) has had a Pride & Prejudice obsession since high school.  Seeing Colin Firth emerge from the waters in the celebrated television version in particular is the height of eroticism for her.   So obsessed is she that her room is covered with "Darcy" all over, and the cut-out of Firth meets the wrath of one suitor who finds Jane would rather watch P & P (again) than make out with him.   Determined to live out her own Austen romance, she blows her life savings on a stay in Austenland, the vacation resort that takes one back to Regency Britain and lets our ladies (I don't know any men who stayed there) live out their chaste dreams (depending on what package they paid for).

Austenland is run by Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour), who runs the place with an iron hand underneath her velvet glove.  To give one the complete Regency experience, no modern conveniences are allowed.   Plain Jane can only afford the Copper Package, so her Austenite character is Miss Erstwhile, poor orphan relation with no resources.  However, the wealthy "Elizabeth Charming" (Jennifer Coolidge) can afford the Platinum Package, as does Lady Amelia Heartwright (Georgia King), so they get better quarters and more attention from Mrs. Wattlesbrook.  The men at Austenland are all actors: there is the shall we say, flamboyant Colonel Andrews (James Callis) and the aloof Henry Nobly (JJ Feild).  It upsets Jane that Miss Charming knows nothing of Jane Austen's work, though Charming, while boorish, is also genuinely kind to Jane and they soon become friends.

Jane is genuinely unhappy at Austenland until she finds Martin (Academy-Award winner Bret McKenzie*), a groundkeeper who appears to be the only real thing in this bizarre fantasy-world.  She soon starts falling for Martin, but it seems that either she can't fully let go of her Darcy fantasy or Mr. Nobly, in his stiff manner, is starting to fall for her in real life.  Not even the arrival of the hunky Captain East (Ricky Whittle) can shift her too far from Nobly.  Jane is determined to be her own heroine, and while she does take charge of herself she also finds that reality and fantasy can sometimes trick you into thinking one is the other.

In the end, we find that Jane has moved away from her Austen-inspired fantasies but she still finds herself a romantic hero.

Despite its best efforts, Austenland could never find what it wanted to be: spoof or sincere.  The comedy was so forced and obvious sometimes one had to wince at how predictable a lot of it was.  About the only time I actually laughed was when Mrs. Wattlesbrook made the guests and 'actors' perform a theatrical, a silly mythological romance.  Seeing this group of actors deliberately overact was the one bright spot in the film, but it left a lot of questions unanswered.

Why was one particular Austenland staff member so moved by Mrs. Wattlesbrook's latest piece?  Who were all these staff members caught lounging around or making out only to stop as soon as a guest wandered in?  The particular goings-on of the three guests (given that only Jane, Charming, and Heartwright were staying here, I imagine Austenland wasn't particularly popular or successful), my mind started wandering into another movie altogether. 

I would have liked to have seen Austenland, not from Jane's viewpoint, but from the staff's.  What they would have thought of all these genuinely crazy people behaving so strangely as they were unaware that people in Regency-era weren't all that different from people today save for what they could say or do.  We get little glints of that when Nobly, East, Andrews, and even Martin are in the staff pool, but by and large director Jerusha Hess (who co-wrote the script with Hale) appeared to want to make the people in their movie one-dimensional.


I think the performers were at least trying to elevate the material they were given, and I can't fault them for that.  Of particular note is Coolidge, who made her dim-but-kind Charming into someone both idiotic and endearing.  She may have been openly vulgar and clueless, but she was also someone who genuinely cared about Jane and was unaffected by the snobbery she found all over.  I think Russell, while a good actress (see The Americans) was miscast: she seems simply too smart to be a character somewhat divorced from reality.  Judging by Seymour's take on Wattlesbrook, one never knew whether she was either just a bitch or really trying for a completely realistic excursion to a bygone era or even a mixture of both.

Better were the men, who knew their parts and made them convincing.  Whittle was the somewhat dim actor who knew his body was his best feature and Callis the vaguely camp performer.  McKenzie (of whose music I am not a fan of) was convincing as Martin, who appears to genuinely love Jane, and in what can be described as a dual role, Feild was excellent as both Mr. Nobly AND the Mr. Darcy stand-in.

In short, the actors did their best to make the material work, and while their efforts should be commended, there was very little they could do to make Austenland little more than a tolerable albeit weak exercise in froth.

This doesn't do you justice...


DECISION: C+

*McKenzie won the Best Original Song Oscar for the crappiest of The Muppets songs (Man or Muppet), a song that won't be remembered five years from now. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oscar's Cowardly Act

Frank Lloyd (right):
Best Director for Cavalcade*


TUESDAYS WITH OSCAR: 1933

The Sixth Annual Academy Awards find themselves selecting films forgotten and performances that might not stand the test of time.  The nadir of all this is in the selection of that year's Best Picture, but out of the Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress, only one is really remembered.   

It is a sign of how bad these Oscars were that history gave us one of the most embarrassing moments whose infamy has gone down into legend.  Fortunately, there was no footage of the "Frank" Debacle, but whether the host, legendary funnyman Will Rogers, meant for this moment to happen or it was just an unfortunate incident is lost to history.  Still, when we get to this moment, even just reading about it makes one cringe.

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).

THE 1933 ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

BEST PICTURE



42nd Street
Cavalcade
A Farewell to Arms
I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang
Lady for a Day
Little Women
The Private Life of Henry VIII
She Done Him Wrong
Smilin' Through
State Fair

If it weren't for the fact that it won Best Picture, I think Cavalcade would have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Name some of the other nominees and you get immediate recognition: 42nd Street, I Am a Fugitive From A Chain Gang, and She Done Him Wrong.  A landmark musical, a gritty drama, and a legendary risqué comedy with Mae West giving us the oft-misquoted "Why don't you come up and see me sometime"? (The exact quote is, "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?  I'm home every evening").  Others are somewhat familiar like A Farewell to Arms, Lady for a Day (later remade as the musical Pocketful of Miracles), Little Women.

However, Cavalcade

I imagine the Academy was impressed with the "grand" nature of the adaptation of the Noel Coward play chronicled the intertwined lives of a wealthy family and their servants.  It seems to be the type the Academy still falls for (the lavish, stagey, pseudo-elegant costume picture).  They sure weren't going to give an Oscar to the saucy West or State Fair, a Will Rogers vehicle (though its remake was the only Rogers & Hammerstein work created specifically for film).  She Done Him Wrong, despite losing the big prize, has earned a place in Oscar history: at 66 minutes, it is the shortest Best Picture nominee ever. 

BEST ACTOR



Leslie Howard (Berkeley Square)
Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII)
Paul Muni (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang)

It wasn't until Jonathan Rhys-Meyers' more hunky take on our merry monarch in the series The Tudors that we got away from the traditional image of Henry VIII: that of a fat, slightly bonkers figure of mirth (a bit like Orson Welles in his Paul Masson years).  I think our idea of His Majesty doesn't come so much from history as it comes from film, in this case, Laughton's performance of Henry VIII in this biopic.   When we think 'Henry VIII', it isn't the virile king who wooed women with his sexual prowess, or the fierce intellect who gained the (I'm not sure quite legally hereditary) title Defender of the Faith for his writings against Martin Luther's 'heresy' (which he later embraced when a divorce from Catherine of Aragon...no relation, became unavailable.  Amazing how a little lust and need for a male heir can make one 'see the light'). 

Instead, it is of the large king who went through wives like Kleenex, and I think that idea stems from The Private Life of Henry VIII more than anything else.  Even if people have not seen the film, show them a picture of Laughton in his royal robes and I'm sure people will recognize him as Elizabeth I's father. 

BEST ACTRESS



Katharine Hepburn (Morning Glory)
May Robson (Lady for a Day)
Diane Wynard (Cavalcade)

The calla lilies really were in bloom, weren't they? 

I seem to get Morning Glory and Stage Door confused, but in my defense Katharine Hepburn plays an up-and-coming actress in both, so the confusion is understandable.  People know Hepburn to be one of the Great Actresses of Our Time, but I can't shake the idea that at least in Morning Glory, Hepburn was ACTING with a Capital A.  There seems to be something 'theatrical' about Hepburn in Morning Glory (judging, admittedly, from the few clips I've seen).  It is, for the moment, a bit difficult to decide whether the fact that she played an actress justifies the mannered, almost exaggerated to the point of parody performance Hepburn gave. 

It may have been that Hepburn decided that because Eva Lovelace (no relation to Linda) was an actress, she could play the part as if Eva KNEW 'the whole world's a stage' and could get away with behaving as if she was always 'on'.  However, while other Hepburn films are better remembered, her three other Oscar wins in particular, I very much doubt Morning Glory is (or is listed among her Truly Great Performances).

BEST DIRECTOR

Frank Capra (Lady for a Day)
George Cukor (Little Women)
Frank Lloyd (Cavalcade)

"Come up and get it, Frank".   And thus begins one of the worst and most embarrassing moments in Oscar history, one filled with humiliation and a breaking out of egos and fierce competitiveness.

When Will Rogers opened the envelope and said those simple words, he either wittingly or unwittingly (the jury is still out on that one) failed to realize one little detail...there were TWO Franks nominated.  Given that there were only THREE nominees this year, it seems a little bizarre to not notice two of them shared the same first name.  At least Cukor didn't have to worry about whether he won that night.

Stories have varied as to what exactly happened next.  They range from somewhat benign (Frank CAPRA, convinced he was THE Frank that won, began walking to the stage until it was made clear Rogers meant Frank LLOYD and was forced to go back to his seat) to the really sad (Capra, hopping up and down, screaming for the spotlight to turn his way when it was searching for Lloyd).  As Capra himself put it, he was forced to take 'the longest, most humiliating crawl' back to his seat, knowing that he not only lost Best Director but had been instrumental in his own humiliation.

I don't dispute this story, but it is strange that Capra made the assumption that he had won when the winners weren't a real big secret.  The strict secrecy of the winners was not enforced until I think 1941.  Before then, it was hit-and-miss as to whether the press got an advanced list of winners.  Therefore, this story may be dubious.  I doubt it because it does make Capra look foolish, but I think it would be good to investigate it.

Lloyd shows that the Best Director and Best Picture winners are lining up.  It isn't often that the Best Director winner doesn't go on to helm the Best Picture.  In fact, it is extremely rare for a Best Director NOMINEE to NOT be nominated for directing a Best Picture nominee.  The only time a Director won without the film itself even being nominated was...Frank Lloyd, who won for The Divine Lady in 1929.  Since then, no other Best Director has won without his/her film receiving a Best Picture nomination (though not always Best Picture itself).  Argo was the last Best Picture winner which did not have its director (Ben Affleck) nominated, and Gravity was the last Best Director winner which did not go on to win Best Picture itself.       

Now we go on to MY Choices, No Substitutions.

BEST DIRECTOR



Frank Capra (Lady for a Day)
George Cukor (Little Women)
Frank Lloyd (Cavalcade)

Cukor, for better or worse, was known as a 'woman's director', which I don't think he liked.  It might be that he was just able to direct women better than he could direct men and gravitated more towards stories about women (Little Women, The Women, My Fair Lady, A Star is Born).  It could also have been a not-too-subtle dig at his homosexuality, with Cukor being about as openly gay as one could be at the time.  However, of the three nominated I think Cukor's film is the one that has held up best.

Also, at least there would have been no confusion if they'd picked him...

BEST ACTRESS



Katharine Hepburn (Morning Glory)
May Robson (Lady for a Day)
Diane Wynard (Cavalcade)

This decision is based on one simple fact: both Hepburn and Wynard were, well, pretty bad.  Again, judging by the clips from Morning Glory, Hepburn is simply too theatrical to be believed as this ingénue.   Having seen Cavalcade, I thought Wynard WAS in a play, with all the theatricality that comes with it.  The Academy now is showing that comedies don't win Oscars.  You had one comedic performance versus two 'serious' dramas.  Odds are that people then, as now, think that funny is easy. 

It's enough to make one shake their head, right Kate? 

BEST ACTOR



Leslie Howard (Berkeley Square)
Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII)
Paul Muni (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang)

I think Muni did a great job as the wrongly accused man who endures the horrors of the prison system in the Deep South.  However, there is something iconic about Laughton as the lusty, wild, portly monarch that one just can't resist.

And Now, MY Choice for the Best Picture of 1933...

BEST PICTURE


42nd Street
Cavalcade
A Farewell to Arms
I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang
Lady for a Day
Little Women
The Private Life of Henry VIII
She Done Him Wrong
Smilin' Through
State Fair

It was a choice for me between 42nd Street and I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, the musical with the legendary title number and Warner Baxter's immortal line, "You're going out there a youngster, but you've GOT to come back a STAR!" and the gritty, down and dirty journey into the heart of darkness with the unforgettable final shot of Muni disappearing into the darkness as he, now turned into a hardened criminal on the lam, declares that he'll support himself through crime.  I went for the crime drama, but that isn't to say that another time I may yet revisit this decision.

One decision I WON'T revisit is Cavalcade, which is one of if not THE worst Best Picture winner in its history.  It really was as if they put a camera in front of a stage and literally filmed a play.  Boring, creaky, wildly overacted with only a few (VERY FEW) good moments, I think watching Cavalcade should replace waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay...thought the former may be MORE torture than any human could endure. 

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

Going for my own choices based on the films released in 1933, I have found a mixture of official and personal nominees in these categories (and I managed to find five nominees for each...isn't that exciting?).

BEST DIRECTOR



Lloyd Bacon (42nd Street)
Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (King Kong)
Alexander Korda (The Private Life of Henry VIII)
Leo McCary (Duck Soup)
William A. Seiter (Sons of the Desert)

1933 was a great year for comedy, as two of the greatest comedy films (Laurel & Hardy's Sons of the Desert and the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup) were released, as was one of the all-time great epics (King Kong).  However, as we know, the Academy doesn't like to laugh, deciding the dry, humorless, and JUST PLAIN BORING Cavalcade was worthy of recognition.  Fortunately for us, NOBODY remembers Cavalcade, but all these other films are not only remembered but are still watched and enjoyed.

One of the great thrills of my life was to be able to introduce my brother Gabe and my friend Raul Issa to Duck Soup when it played at the Plaza Classic Film Festival.  Seeing them laugh uproariously at the hijinks of the Marx Brothers gives me hope for the future generations of filmgoers who dare to venture into 'old films'.  You just can't really beat Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and even Zeppo in the laughs. 

BEST ACTRESS



Margaret Dumont (Duck Soup)
Greta Garbo (Queen Christina)
Jean Harlow (Bombshell)
Ruby Keeler (42nd Street)
Mae West (She Done Him Wrong)

Bet you didn't see THAT one coming.  You can't have Oscars without a few surprises.

Margaret Dumont was, quite simply, the Greatest Straight Man in the World.  Not to contradict the great Groucho, but contrary to his oft-told tale I think Dumont at least was IN on the joke.  Maybe she didn't get every joke, but if you look at her performance she knew the part she was playing.  Dumont always was the grande dame who was never flummoxed by any of the craziness going on around her.

Certainly Groucho and to a lesser degree Chico and even Harpo would insult Dumont but no matter just how they were, the most she ever did was a quick reaction and then move of as if nothing ever happened.  I did always wonder just how crazy she must have been to have turned to whatever character Groucho was for help or romance.  Even though Dumont never let on, one believed she was flattered, maybe even a little smitten, with the Groucho character despite his put-downs.

To keep a straight face at the antics of the Marx Brothers is certainly worthy of recognition.

BEST ACTOR



Leslie Howard (Berkeley Square)
Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII)
Paul Muni (I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang)
Claude Rains (The Invisible Man)
Paul Robeson (The Emperor Jones)

Laughton survives another round, and I would also throw in Rains' iconic turn as the Invisible Man.

And Now, MY Choice for the Best Picture of 1933 (from my list of nominees)...



Duck Soup
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
The Invisible Man
King Kong
Sons of the Desert

It was an extremely tough choice between two of the greatest films ever made.  I kept switching between Duck Soup and King Kong.  In the end I opted for the one that surprised me in terms of emotional impact and special effects.  Even after all these decades, King Kong still stands as a great special effects film and tale of Beauty and the Beast. 

I might revisit this choice again, but one thing is certain: both these films, along with one of my favorite comedies, Sons of the Desert, are infinitely better than the Academy's pick.  All my nominees are still remembered and being watched.

Cavalcade is forgotten...as it should be.

I REALLY HATE THAT FILM...

Next Week, the 1934 Oscars.

*As Miss Hepburn appeared at the Academy Awards only once (to present producer Lawrence Weingarten with the Thalberg Award for consistent quality in producing) there are no photographs of her accepting any of her four competitive Oscars.

Spoiled Sport...

They make the CUTEST couple...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Course of Bates Love Never Did Run Smooth



BATES MOTEL: PLUNGE

The Escape Artist was a mild reprieve from the craziness Bates Motel excels in (or at least as mild as the show will allow).  Plunge throws us into the mayhem that is the show's forte, and at least now we have what we have never had: Norman Bates' first confirmed kill. 

Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) look like they finally are getting what they want.  It seems that all the horrors of the past are slowly receding.  With the encouragement of her new bestie Christine (Rebecca Creskoff) and Christine's brother, former lawyer George (Michael Vartan), Norma make lemonade out of the lemons of her late rival Councilman Berman's death by asking the Mayor (Andrew Airlie) to have her fill his seat.  Despite her growing misgivings about her association with Nick Ford (Michael O'Neill), which her temporary hotel guest Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) advises against, it is precisely her connection with Ford that impresses His Honor the most.

Norman, for his part, is growing infatuated with both 'bad girl' Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski) and the idea of getting his driver's license.  Cody may be falling for our geeky hero, but she still has problems at home, in particular her abusive father.  Fortunately, she is close to turning 18 and thus free from having to live with him.  They ditch the tech crew for a nice time at a remote location, unaware that Emma (Olivia Cooke) and her new boyfriend Gunner (Keenan Tracy) have pretty much the same idea.  Cody suggests they all take a literal plunge.  Norman has misgivings but does so to his delight.  Then it is Emma's turn.  Her illness puts her in danger of drowning, but goaded into things by Cody, she goes in and nearly dies.  Norman rescues her, then scares everyone with the intensity of his fury.

Dylan (Max Thieriot) has his own problems.  His real boss, Jodi (Kathleen Robinson) puts him up at her house far from town to help in his recovery, then tells him she is putting him in charge of operations but Dylan has to keep Zane from finding out he, not Jodi's brother, is the real power.  Oh, and she sleeps with him (given how everyone was getting some, it seems fair that he get some too).

Things come to a head with a chain of information.  At one point, Norman and Cody hide in her closet.  Norman starts having flashbacks to his own father's abusive behavior towards Norma and blacks out.  Cody, alarmed at the frequency of these blackouts, tells Emma, even though Norman has asked Cody not to tell his mother.  Emma, worried after Norman's intensity at the swimming hole, breaks down and tells Norma just as Norman is about to take his driver's license test.  Without missing a beat Norman stops the driving test and asks if one can get a license who suffers blackouts.  The instructor immediately cancels the test, and Norman is furious.  Confronting Cody (having walked all the way), they are interrupted by Cody's father, and in the fight that ensues Norman pushes Cody's father down the stairs.


In the great scheme of things, Councilwoman Bates is not the nuttiest idea that Bates Motel has ever introduced.   I would say it is almost downright rational.  Plunge however, does what I think are two things right.  First, it minimized the drug war White Pine Bay finds itself in (which I have felt was always the weakest part of the series) to where it is in the background.  Second, it puts various other threads (Cody, Gunner, Bates parent and child) and combines them into a situation that appears normal, almost frighteningly so.

The entire swimming hole scene struck me as highly realistic: teens behaving foolishly, Norman's protective nature getting the better of him, Gunner regretful he put the girl he likes in danger, Cody realizing she may be tough, but Norman is far more dangerous than she is.  We also get the idea that Norman is struggling to break free from Norma's control (though given how Farmiga makes Norma to be, the degree to which Norman is allowed to be controlled rather than how much control she actually has is a bit hazy). 

Did she stop Norman from getting his license because she was genuinely concerned he would have a blackout while driving, putting him and others in danger?  Was it a subconscious desire to keep him under her thumb, with her latching on to anything to stop him from getting a driver's license (i.e., his freedom)?  It is all a bit murky, all these interfamily politics, but now Norman's growing anger pushes him from everyone and everything.  His mother slips between his dearest friend and his bitterest hindrance, Cody is either the temptress or the danger, Emma is the friend he can confide almost anything to.

Kerry Ehrin's script doesn't give us straight answers, which is perfect in that there is still room for doubt on both sides. 

In regards to Norma, we get now strange possibilities.  Norman takes an instant dislike to George (who by all accounts so far is a rare thing in WPB: a nice, rational guy), setting up a strange sense of jealousy on little Normie's part.  Romero, for his part, tells Norma she should close the curtains because he can see her in various stages of undress.  Does this please either?  Are these two bound for a tryst?

What BABIES these two could make: her face, his eyelashes, their beautiful figures together...sorry, got lost there for a moment in a 'shipper' fantasy.

Plunge has top-notch performances from just about everyone (still not buying what Kwiatkowski is selling) and it allows for a greater focus on Norman and Norma.  This does mean pushing Dylan and his Drug War to the sidelines, but unless Bates Motel gets them together in an epic storyline the drug thing seems from another show altogether.  Plunge also is not afraid to torture our leads: just when Norma achieves something wonderful, Norman has to screw it up.  Just when Norman is about to find freedom, Norma comes along to screw it up. 

Talk about hurting the ones you love...

I like these two, but I worry too about
whether they'll make it to the season finale...
 

8/10

Next Episode: Presumed Innocent

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Airplanes


THE WIND RISES

It's the strangest thing in the world if one thinks about The Wind Rises.  It is an animated biopic about the creator of the Japanese Zero, the airplane that would earn infamy during World War II for the 'kamikaze' flights the Japanese pilots made in a last-ditch effort to stop the advancing American fleet from crushing the Empire of the Rising Sun.  Is the film then a celebration about the man who helped create a machine that killed millions of people, another sad example of Japan's refusal to accept its role in the Second World War? 

It is not so simple as that.  The Wind Rises is less about Japan's failures than it is about the desire to create something beautiful, only to find that same creation used for evil. 

Jiro Horikoshi dreams of taking to the skies, finding the world above so beautiful.  His vision prevents him from being a pilot, but with the inspiration of Italian airplane designer Giovanni Caproni (who comes to him in dream sequences), Jiro decides to devote his life to designing his own planes.

Over the course of his life, he meets the love of his life Naoko in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and is reunited with her many years later.  He also moves up quickly and methodically through the Mitsubishi Company, where Jiro is somewhat oblivious to all but his beautiful designs, even if the slowly encroaching war and Japan's growing militarism soon starts taking over the designs.  The government even sponsors for Jiro and his colleagues to travel to Germany to see their innovations (and I think he might have witnessed the Kristallnacht attacks). Naoko and Jiro's love is threatened by her tuberculosis, but despite the obstacles they marry.

In the end, even though his Zeroes became instruments of death, Caproni comes to him one last time, telling him he did create something beautiful, and we see Naoko in a vision one last time as well.


What is glorious about animation is that the imagination can do so much to make things real, and The Wind Rises does so to an extraordinary and breathtaking degree.  Visually the film is beautiful, so breathtakingly beautiful.  The opening sequence has five minutes of no dialogue but with a series of beautiful images.  Thanks to animation, we can see characters walk on wings of planes, and even the flight of Zeroes over their heads yields such beauty that I don't think instruments of war and death were never so splendidly rendered.

Even the moments which wouldn't lend themselves to being artworks become, under Miyazaki's directing, some extraordinary sequences.  The earthquake sequence is so stunning that it would be impossible to imagine that the most lavish CGI would or could ever top it.  The violence the Japanese see on the periphery in Germany is also something almost lovely.  We even get a beautiful moment both visually and story-wise with Naoko and Jiro: their own version of 'the balcony scene'. 

I am at pains to point out that there is a difference between making something visually beautiful and romanticizing the same moments.  Miyazaki is not suggesting that the Kanto Earthquake or Kristallnacht are themselves beautiful, or that the actions of the Zeroes are things to think of as 'art'.  Far from it: in The Wind Rises, Jiro is aware that machinery, even that which he creates in order to build something of great beauty, can be (and sadly, oftentimes is) transformed into something for destruction and death.  Jiro believes that his planes are not for war or for making money, but he I think understood that the people he worked for, who in a sense were his patrons, did not share this noble vision. 

I should also point out that The Wind Rises is an extremely loose biopic of Horikoshi.  It is 'based on' his life, but it is not a strict biopic.  Rather, I think it is Miyazaki's meditation on creating, on working to make something beautiful but how others can make things into something created with love for love into something nefarious and dark.  The Wind Rises is not a celebration of Horikoshi's fighter planes or the actions of the pilots.  This is not a film which attempts to hide or downplay Japan's dark past.  It is, rather, a celebration of the creative process, and an acknowledgement that Japan has still, over a half-century later, still failed to come to grips with its great shame of aggression.

The trauma of its actions still sting the Japanese spirit, so much so that it finds it difficult to fully accept.  The Wind Rises is miles away from a scene I remember from Neon Genesis Evangelion.  In the latter, Shinji is in class and the teacher says something along the lines of, "For some reason, the United States and Japan found themselves at war".   This may have been a sly dig from NGE at Japan's willful blindness.  The Wind Rises, while it did trouble me because it is about the creator of the Zero, is again not a celebration of the actions.  It is almost a lament for how something of beauty can be turned to something of ugliness. 

If I can find one fault with The Wind Rises, it is that when they went to Germany, the church they passed by while on the train looked vaguely Russian with its onion domes.  A minor flaw, granted, but there it is. 

"Airplanes are beautiful dreams," Caproni tells Jiro.  Oh, Miyazaki-sensei, so are your films.

So are your films...

1903-1982


DECISION: A-

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

They Didn't Know When to Fold 'Em

RUNNER RUNNER

Runner Runner is a piece of junk. 

That is my short review for this vehicle that pushes Justin Timberlake (or as I call him, either J-Tim or SexyBack) into his own belief that he is an actor.

He isn't one. 

Come to think of it, neither are either of his co-stars, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Richie Furst (SexyBack) has been financing his Princeton education via gambling, first by referring students and teachers to a offshore gambling site, then after the Dean threatens to expel him, by doing some gambling himself (despite a history of gambling addiction in the family).  He finds he loses big, but also that he may not have lost legitimately.

In the words of Richie's friend Craig (Ben Schwartz), who actually tells Richie (and us) what Richie's plans are, Richie decides to go to Costa Rica, present his case to Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), show he was cheated, and get his money back.

How someone who apparently has no money can justify flying down to Central America, crash a private party with I imagine heavy security, and convince someone who has made money off of him to give him his money back is something we need not think too much on.   Even more stunning, Richie not only manages to pull all this off, but Ivan finds that Richie is RIGHT!  Ivan gives him his money back and offers him a job working for him directly.

Now, if I were Richie, I would have taken the money and run, paid off my school, and continued on my merry way.  Then again, while I AM a Richie, I'm not SexyBack.  No way was that going to happen.


One has Grammys, one has Oscars.
Neither has acting abilities. 
Well, Richie is now enjoying the high life in Costa Rica, even getting in a romance of sorts with Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), Ivan's assistant and I think former main squeeze.  As time goes on, Richie finds himself in a shady world of illegal activities and corruption.

I'm going to pause here for just a moment to say, "Online Gambling ISN'T shady? I'm shocked, SHOCKED!"

Richie now has to fend off the Costa Rican officials Ivan's been bribing for years, the FBI Agent (Anthony Mackie) who is powerless here but who puts pressure on Richie to turn evidence against Ivan, and Ivan himself, who we find out not only has swindled millions but is going to make Richie the patsy.

Again, I'm shocked, SHOCKED!

In the end, one good 'twist' allows Ivan to be caught and the lovers to get away.

As I watched Runner Runner, all I could think was that I was watching an outline of a script that got filmed. David Levien and Brian Koppelman's screenplay is clichéd, in some ways idiotic, and it makes the characters rather dumb too.  Richie is suppose to be this highly intelligent person, but never once does he think that a.) he was in a hare-brained scheme, and b.) Ivan may be shady.

We get the issue that Richie's father has a gambling addiction but it is important only in that it is another card that Ivan holds against the surprisingly witless Richie.  We get a subplot about Ivan and Richie blackmailing someone to let them use his online group but nothing ever comes from this, or really from any subplot it introduces then throws away with nary a thought.

Arterton is there just for eye candy, so she suffers the least.  Putting the entire project on the weak shoulders of SexyBack, however, is not a good idea.  He has not achieved anything close to range at the moment.  He may in the future, but SexyBack is not a dramatic actor yet.  Sadly, he manages to at least keep up with Affleck, who continues to show that as an actor, he makes a great director.  Mackie's character is so irrelevant one wonders why he is introduced, though I get the sense he might have enjoyed his time in Puerto Rico.

Speaking of directors, I noted that Brad Furman enjoys moving the camera at every opportunity, even when it isn't called for. 

In the end, we really didn't care one bit for anyone or anything in Runner Runner.  It is perhaps the worst kind of action film.  It is boring. 

JT, we're getting an all-paid vacation out of this.
Stop worrying, we're too pretty to care...


DECISION: D-

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Oscar Checks In

TIE
Wallace Beery (left): Best Actor for The Champ
Fredric March (right): Best Actor for
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

TUESDAYS WITH OSCAR: 1932

If we are to be technical there was no actual "tie" in the Best Actor category at the Fifth Annual Academy Awards.  Fredric March had one vote over Wallace Beery, but for reasons still a bit perplexing, there were TWO Best Actor Oscars awarded.  From what I understand, the Academy declared a tie if someone came within three votes of the person with the most votes.  With Beery one vote behind, ergo...a tie.   I also read that Conrad Nagel unilaterally declared that tie because Beery was one vote off without bothering to consult anyone and the Academy was simply too embarrassed to take it back.  Also, with a brawler like Beery, one didn't know WHAT his reaction would be to losing.  Even then these little gold statues were causing egos to burst.

What poor Alfred Lunt, the third and last Best Actor nominee this year, thought about being the only guy to go home without an Oscar, is as far as I know, unknown.  Still, to think that out of three people, TWO of them win and you're the odd man out, it must not have been a happy feeling.

Just think what all the Best Picture nominee producers must have felt when Grand Hotel, which had only ONE nomination, was announced as the winner.   To this day Grand Hotel holds the distinction of being the only Best Picture winner without receiving a nomination in any other category, a batting average never to be equaled again. 

The Fifth Annual Academy Awards had their fair share of firsts: first 'tie', first time a Best Picture winner won without other nominations.  On the whole, I don't think the winners or nominees were terrible (which is not always the case). 

As always this is just for fun and should not be taken as my final decision. I should like to watch all the nominees and winners before making my final, FINAL choice. Now, on to cataloging the official winners (in bold) and my selections (in red). Also, my substitutions (in green).

THE 1932 ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

BEST PICTURE



Arrowsmith
Bad Girl
The Champ
Five Star Final
Grand Hotel
One Hour With You
Shanghai Express
The Smiling Lieutenant

While other categories had a mere three nominations, the big prize had more stars than any of them.  Grand Hotel was the genesis of the term 'all-star cast', and it did have just about every major star on the MGM lot.  We had both established stars (like Greta Garbo) and up-and-comers (Joan Crawford).  To its credit Grand Hotel manages to tell all its stories well and tie them together into one, and I thought it was a very good film. 

I can't say that the nominees are a bad lot, though some, like Bad Girl, are pretty forgotten.  The Champ, One Hour With You, and Shanghai Express are still remembered.  Curiously, two of the films (One Hour With You and The Smiling Lieutenant) starred Maurice Chevalier.  Just a random thought.

Still, one can't really fight the lavishness of Grand Hotel for Best Picture here, can one?

BEST ACTOR

Wallace Beery (The Champ)


Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Wallace Beery (The Champ)
Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Alfred Lunt (The Guardsman)

As stated earlier, there was an official tie declared in this category, though if one is to be technical March actually won for his dual role of the good doctor and his bad side. 

Again, I can't help wonder what Lunt thought of being beaten by not one but two people, leaving him the only one empty-handed on his sole Oscar nomination.

The Academy I think stumbled here, not on the nominations themselves, but on allowing the idea of hurt feelings to cloud their judgment.  Even this little Oscar tidbit could be forgiven if there were no other good performances, but I hope to prove that the Academy did have some choices that would have kept both March and Beery from having to share the prize.

BEST ACTRESS



Marie Dressler (Emma)
Lynn Fontaine (The Guardsman)
Helen Hayes (The Sin of Madelon Claudet)

Nothing like some good sinning to get you some Oscar gold, wouldn't you say, you First Lady of the American Stage?

Hayes was and I think still known primarily for her theater work (hence her title of FLOTAS).  Still, she did venture into film, and was rewarded for it.  She also has a few other distinctions; she won the Oscar for her screen debut (the first acting Oscar winner to do so). Hayes is also among the few people who became an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner) and of having one of the longest stretches between Oscar wins.  It would be 32 years before she appeared in the winner's circle again.

BEST DIRECTOR

Frank Borzage (Bad Girl)
King Vidor (The Champ)
Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express)

I figure time has not been kind to either Borzage or Bad Girl.  Neither is remembered, even by cinephiles.   He is a two-time Oscar winner, but now...

Curiously, his competition (Vidor and von Sternberg) ARE more remembered than Borzage, and with his win Borzage now joins Lewis Milestone with two directing Oscars after both won the first year of the Academy Awards when there was a Dramatic and Comedic Directing Oscar.  I'd say Milestone showed more range: he won for Comedy Directing with Two Arabian Knights, then for Best Director for the highly downbeat All Quiet on the Western Front.   Borzage won his two Oscars for dramas, Bad Girl and Seventh Heaven

One last tidbit: Vidor has the unfortunate distinction of having lost to the same man twice, and von Sternberg is the second person to lose Best Director two years straight.  The first?  Ernst Lubitsch, which means Oscars had a hard time with foreigners.

Now, we got to MY Choices, NO Substitutions.

BEST DIRECTOR



Frank Borzage (Bad Girl)
King Vidor (The Champ)
Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express)

I'm a von Sternberg freak, OK?

Seriously, while I have nothing against King Vidor or The Champ, I think the visual splendor of Shanghai Express would make it a better directed film.

I could be wrong, but for now I'm holding steady with this choice. 

Also, Frank Who?

BEST ACTRESS



Marie Dressler (Emma)
Lynn Fontaine (The Guardsman)
Helen Hayes (The Sin of Madelon Claudet)

Having seen most of Emma, I could not help reacting emotionally to this woman's kindheartedness despite how badly her stepchildren, whom she raised and cared deeply for, treated her (especially over money). 

Sadly, Dressler was to die two years later, just a terrible, terrible shame.

BEST ACTOR



Wallace Beery (The Champ)
Alfred Lunt (The Guardsman)
Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Well, I'm going to have no ties in this case (and will work to avoid them, though I know of at least one future Tuesdays With Oscar where it will be inevitable).  Here, March is playing dual characters, and this gives him a chance to show off his range.  Despite the passage of time and the various incarnations of the not-so-good doctor, March's interpretation of Jekyll and Hyde is still remembered apart from the fact that he won the Oscar.

Not bad, I'd say.

And Now, MY Choice for Best Picture of 1932...

BEST PICTURE



Arrowsmith
Bad Girl
The Champ
Five Star Final
Grand Hotel
One Hour With You
Shanghai Express
The Smiling Lieutenant

Let me say for the record that I thought highly of Grand Hotel.  It's appropriately lavish without it being a 'costume' picture.   This crop is a mixed bag.  Some nominees are now totally or near-totally forgotten (Bad Girl, Five Star Final), some have stood the test of time (the rest).  However, out of all them I would have put the main competition between Grand Hotel and Shanghai Express.  In this Battle of the European Divas, the German wins over the Swede.
 
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

Going for my own choices based on the films released in 1932, I have found a mixture of official and personal nominees in these categories (and I managed to find five nominees for each...isn't that exciting?).

BEST DIRECTOR



Tod Browning (Freaks)
Cecil B. DeMille (The Sign of the Cross)
Victor Fleming (Red Dust)
Howard Hawks (Scarface)
Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express)

No, I'm not into the weird.  I'm a perfectly bourgeois individual.   However, out of all of my choices it is Browning's directing that impressed me the most.  To take this really bonkers story and make it both terrifying and even somewhat rational takes a great deal of talent.

The scene when the 'freaks' take their revenge is still chilling, and there is a somewhat documentary feel to how we see all these sideshow performers live.  I do have some issues with how broad the 'normal' people's performances were, but their end is quite shocking, I daresay horrifying, and can one really argue with "Gooble-gobble, we accept her, one of us"?

BEST ACTRESS



Joan Crawford (Rain)
Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express)
Marie Dressler (Emma)
Greta Garbo (Grand Hotel)
Jean Harlow (Red Dust)

There were some really strong performances in 1932, which makes the failure of some selections curious to say the least.  Crawford really came into her own this year, giving two brilliant turns, first as the scheming but good-hearted secretary in Grand Hotel and as fallen woman Sadie Thompson in RainRain's box office failure spooked Crawford into not stretching as an actress, but I think history has proven that she could pull of a great performance thanks to Rain and Grand Hotel.

However, I'm making this another Battle of the European Divas, and my decision is to go for the German "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lilly" from Shanghai Express over the Swede's  "I want to be alone" from Grand Hotel

There is nothing like European women's world-weariness, is there?

BEST ACTOR



John Barrymore (Grand Hotel)
Lionel Barrymore (Grand Hotel)
Clark Gable (Red Dust)
Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Paul Muni (Scarface)

As the criminal Baron who woos the Russian ballet diva and ultimately pays a high price for his general goodness, John Barrymore gives a total performance and makes Grand Hotel such a beautifully acted film.  He is matched by his brother Lionel as the meek bank clerk living it up as he lives out his last days.

However, it is Muni and his evil turn as Tony Camonte in Scarface that people still remember (it was Muni, not Al Pacino in the remake, who was listed as one of the 50 Greatest Screen Villains by the American Film Institute).  Long before Pacino asked us to "say hello to his little friend", it was the irredeemable Camonte who thrilled audiences and horrified censors with his murderous and cold-blooded ways.

My brother Gabe LOVES mobsters and gangster movies (one of his great dreams is to go "on pilgrimage" to Corleone, Sicily), but he wasn't familiar with the old-school gangsters (Cagney, Bogart, Raft, Robinson).  He LOVES the Pacino Scarface (whose cult I confess not understanding at all), so he was intrigued by the idea that it was really a remake.   I had the pleasure of showing him the original Scarface, and he loved it, and especially all the references he recognized (especially "The World Is Yours"). 

And Now, MY Choice for the Best Picture of 1932 (from my list of nominees)...



Freaks
Grand Hotel
Red Dust
Scarface
Shanghai Express

We have another great selection to draw from in 1932.  Therefore it makes it hard to find fault with the choices I present.  However, despite it being banned in Britain for 30 years (and at least once was accused of being so horrifying that it caused a miscarriage...though I wonder why a pregnant woman would want to see something called Freaks), my choice has stood the test of time and is more than the sum of its parts (no pun intended)

Freaks is really about what makes people human.  Is it their appearance, or is it their hearts?  The 'freaks' are actually good people, while most of the 'normals' are monstrous in their greed and cruelty.  Freaks makes its case strongly: appearances aren't everything, and it's unfortunate that it was so shocking that we had to have an alternate (happy, or happy-ish) ending when the original I think would have been better.

There is also something quite delicious about the fact that Freaks, this lurid and twisted tale of circus folk deformed in ways both physical and spiritual, slipped through MGM and Louis B. Mayer, a studio and mogul who prided themselves of their sophistication and glamour.  I am astonished that Mayer didn't shut Freaks down immediately.  For a man whose idea of an average family was the Hardys, thinking that HIS studio brought us Freaks is one last bizarre bit from perhaps the craziest film released by a major studio BEFORE the Production Code went into full effect.  

Next Week, the 1933 Oscars.

Duck, Duck, Lose...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Winter Is Barely Coming


CAPTAIN AMERICA:
THE WINTER SOLDIER

Would I be forgiven if I said that I was a little underwhelmed by Captain America: The Winter Solder?  I didn't hate it by any stretch: there are good action scenes and some strong performances (particularly by Chris Evans, who generally can't act, and Scarlett Johansson, who generally can).  I also confess that Winter Soldier has grown on me since I left the screening (albeit slightly puzzled: not having read comic books, sometimes I had to ask who certain characters, particularly in the closing credit scenes, were).  However, while I liked The First Avenger more than The Winter Soldier, the latter had more plusses than minuses.

I can't really give a major plot overview without providing spoilers.  I'll do my best to keep things as opaque as possible but to be frank I have to have a few tidbits to explain what I liked/didn't about Winter Soldier.

Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is adjusting as well as he can to the Twenty-First Century, keeping a list of all the important events he's missed (though at least he got Star Wars out of the way).  He works for S.H.I.E.L.D., most often alongside Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson).  On one mission, the Cap finds something is off, and in short he finds the direction S.H.I.E.L.D. is taking in the name of national security morally wrong (remember, he IS from the 'Greatest Generation', a term I have trouble with not because I don't appreciate the struggles that the World War II generation went through, but it implies that all other generations past or future...say, Generation X...isn't any good).

In any case, the moral questions Rogers has are thrown into the back-burner after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is viciously attacked by a mysterious force.  Whatever Fury's fate, there is something nefarious afoot at the agency, so much so that Rogers and Romanoff are forced on the run and are considered outlaws, especially by Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who wants to neutralize threats before they happen.

Eventually, not only do the Cap and Black Widow find out who is behind this massive conspiracy, but also come across the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a merciless assassin with a history with Cap.  With nowhere else to turn, the fugitives find help from Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who has created special wings that will allow him to fly as Falcon.

Now the Cap and Black Widow must stop the nefarious actions of those using S.H.I.E.L.D. from causing all sorts of evil.

In the post-credit scenes, we are introduced to two siblings who have incredible powers (superspeed and telekinesis) and at the end, a mysterious figure from Rogers' past visits the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian and learns something of his true identity.


The Captain Bucky's the Trend...

Perhaps my great problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that I, never having read comics, really don't know a lot of what causes gasps.  My coworker Fabian, who insisted on going to Winter Soldier opening weekend, might have become nonplussed at having to keep hearing from me, "Who's that?"  When we saw the Winter Soldier unmasked, I sarcastically said, "Should we be shocked?"  He replied yes, even though anyone who knows at least something about the story (which I did) would know who the Winter Soldier was.  I did ask in the first post-credit scene, "Are they mutants?"  The technical answer is that yes, they are, but given the rights issues we really can't use the term 'mutants'. 

That has been, for me at least, the biggest thing that keeps films like Winter Soldier and all their connected films a bit distant from me.  I shouldn't have to watch things like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or read the comic books and/or have vast comic book history knowledge to try and keep up with whatever is going on. 

Now, there are some other Winter Soldier aspects that did puzzle me.  No matter how often people try to convince me otherwise, I am immune from feeling anything over the 'death' of a character whom I suspect is not really dead.  Doctor Who 2.0 specializes in killing off characters only to have them return sans reason, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is built entirely on a character whom we last saw killed off (rather convincingly) in The Avengers (no spoilers there, and for the record I campaigned for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Clark Gregg).  One almost wishes George R.R. Martin were involved in the MCU if only to make sure dead characters remained...well, dead. 

Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely's screenplay also takes too many liberties with reality.  Why would Pierce place weapons on the World Security Council members' pins if he thought his plan would be foolproof?  How did the Cap get the flashdrive into the vending machine without anyone noticing?  How did said 'non-dead' character convince both medically trained staff and machines that said character really was dead?  I'm sorry, but it was not a shock to find this person alive.  It would have been a shock to have found the character actually...dead, and not just merely dead, but most sincerely dead. 
Finally, this whole quasi-Dr. Strangelove business (when we get a big revelation and the return of yet another character from The First Avenger, all I could think of was that said character was coming close to calling out, "Mein Fuhrer, I can WALK!") and the inner workings of a massive Illuminati-type conspiracy struck me as almost laughable. 

However, my BIGGEST beef with Winter Soldier is that, for a character whose name is in the title, the Winter Soldier himself played a small role in all the machinations going on.   He was part of the major action sequences, but apart from that was he really necessary apart from because he was part of the Captain America mythos?   The sentimental/secret visit by Cap to his Smithsonian exhibition (or as I call it, a plot exposition scene) all but tells us what will happen, but as for his actual role in the movie, it was rather minimal.

Again, I don't think Winter Soldier is bad by any stretch.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo kept the movie flowing to where the two-hour spectacle speeds by.  The action scenes are all big and loud (just like we like 'em), and within it there are some strong performances.



I start out by saying that I am NOT a Chris Evans fan.  I don't think I will ever shift him from my Worst Actors List, but I am willing to amend my thinking to a certain degree: Chris Evans CAN'T act EXCEPT as Captain America.  For some reason the character is the only thing that triggers anything close to a performance out of our beautiful creature.  In his conflict between the world as he remembers and as it is, in his concern over how things are drifting, Evans manages to convince that he IS Captain America.

Would that he do so every time he's on the screen.

Similarly, Johansson does such a great job as the mysterious and world-wise Black Widow that I can see how calls for a spin-off for her character keep growing.  Johansson creates a character who is smart, committed to the mission given to her, and moreover has wonderful rapport with Evans.  She has so smoothly shifted from one of my Worst to one of my Best Actresses working today that I tip my hat to her.  Anthony Mackie makes a strong impression and a welcome addition as Falcon, and the interplay between him and Evans is equally strong as that of Evans and Johansson. 

I do also congratulate Winter Soldier for tackling the issue of security versus freedom, of how far we should go to protect the world.  These issues plague us now, and Winter Soldier, while not taking sides (I've seen comments on how it is both a conservative and liberal film) it at least gives us the ability to see that, like all good allegories, it can tell a smart story without skimping on the action and daring-do we've all come to know and love.

Oh, if I must confess if made to choose I prefer The First Avenger over Winter Soldier.  As I am removed from my first initial reaction I think there is much to admire in Winter Soldier.  I also confess that because I don't know much about the MCU, non-comic book people like me may get a little perplexed by it all.  However, despite the fact that I still feel the actual character of the Winter Soldier didn't play as important a part in the proceedings as he could have (and I think, should have), on the whole Winter Soldier is a strong addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Does this mean I HAVE to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now?



ScarJo, you have beauty, talent, and smarts.
Chris, you have beauty, eh, beauty...and your health.

DECISION: B-

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Average Films Volume II: 2009-2014


As I stated, the C+ Film for me is one that is just OK, still good but something that could have been better.

A C+ Film is one that sometimes barely crosses the line between Good and Bad into being good.  Sometimes a performance or a story or even some special effects down to costumes can elevate a bad movie into being just good enough.

It's a thin line between Good and Bad, and a C+ Film manages (sometimes despite itself) to go into being, if not Good, at least tolerable.

Since I opened Rick's Café I have found 57 films that fit the criteria for a C+.  Sometimes it is a film I would say is bad, but it provided enough entertainment value to make it worth renting, if nothing more than to waste a few hours if nothing else is on.  This goes with my Philosophy on Film, that I should judge a film based on what it is trying to do, not whether I think it is 'great art'.

As I have said before, with some of these films, I know they aren't very good.  However, while I'm not blind to their flaws and faults they somehow managed to work despite their own ineptness and squeezed by with a barely positive review.

With that, the Films that Are Barely Good Enough...



 



 



 



 



 








Next Time, the C- Films, movies that I think are bad, but if one rents them, it won't kill you. 

Too Low?  Too High?  Are these Barely Good Films much better than I remember them, or are they pieces of junk that I missed the boat on?  Let me know and I'll give a "Second Look" to a disputed film.