Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Snowy Winter Movies

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

It's the last Thursday Movie Picks of the year! And so, I WILL NOT miss it! But, in order to achieve that goal, I gotta do this quick-and-dirty style.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011) I didn't like this one as much as Niels Arden Oplev's Swedish version (which I saw first), largely because it is cold, remote, and largely sedate - which wouldn't be a problem if it didn't have that incredible, pulse-racing credits sequence, which captures an energy the story could never hope to match. But when I think of winter, this is pretty much what it looks and feels like.

Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013) Olaf the Snowman is the MAN. This smart update of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen is a future classic. Proof? You already know the songs. At least one of which by heart.

Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1996) The Coen Brothers' masterpiece? Quite possibly. A masterpiece of tone and comic timing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Holiday/Vacation Movies

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

As the British say, "We're going off on holiday!" Well, we're not. But the characters in these movies are!

M. Hulot's Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953) Jacques Tati's iconic bumbling simpleton M. Hulot goes on vacation to the French coast, and chaos follows in his wake, as it tends to do. There are so many classic gags in this film that I can't pick a favorite - the taffy, the dinner table, the wind in the lobby, Hulot's tennis serve.... and those are just four. This gentle comedy is perfect for introducing younger children to both black & white film and foreign films, since it's just plain funny and uses hardly any dialogue. It's one of my All-Time Favorites.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) Talk about your holiday gone wrong. American doctor Jimmy Stewart and his wife Doris Day are traveling abroad with their young son when Jimmy unwittingly stumbles on an assassination plot. To ensure his silence, his son is kidnapped. Fun for everyone! A remake of Hitchcock's own 1934 film, this is superior in nearly every way, especially during the nail-biting, dialogue-free sequence at the Royal Albert Hall.

Summertime (David Lean, 1955) Spinster middle-aged wallflower secretary Jane Hudson (Katherine Hepburn in one of her best performances) takes the vacation of her life to Europe, and while in Venice, she meets swoon-worthy Rossano Brazzi. A whirlwind romance ensues, changing Jane's life forever. Read more of my thoughts on the beautiful film here.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your holidays be merry and bright!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Family Get-Together/Reunions

Written as part of the blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies related to the week's topic and telling us about them!

I have a complicated relationship with my family. I love them, but I don't necessarily like being around them, particularly my extended family. I mean, they're nice, but they are so so different from me that we rarely have much to talk about. A few sentences updating each other on our lives and we're done. Commence another few hours of stuffing my face because I don't have anything more to say.

Although honestly, not many of the families in these films are much better...

This Is Where I Leave You (Shawn Levy, 2014) As unfortunately so often happens, the tricky, interesting tone of Jonathan Tropper's novel doesn't quite survive the transition from page to screen, despite one of the best casts in recent years. Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Corey Stoll, and Adam Driver return to their childhood home for their father's funeral. Naturally, their mother, Jane Fonda, wants them to do certain things and behave in a certain way and they don't quite want to listen. Hijinks ensue. I so wish this was better, although it's not bad.

August: Osage County (John Wells, 2014) Again, Tracty Letts's searing family dramedy doesn't quite survive the transfer from stage to screen, but here it's mostly the fault of the director John Wells, who doesn't really have a good feeling for staging, camera movement, or rhythm, all of which are of supreme importance to the material. Thankfully, the cast mostly makes up for this with tremendous performances: Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis are perfection as three sisters who  return to home after their father goes missing. Their mother (Meryl Streep in one of her more "actorly" performances) is a venemous dragon lady with cancer of the mouth (both literally and figuratively), and Margo Martindale is her sister who tries to smooth things over. Needless to say, things don't go well ("EAT YOUR FISH, BITCH!").

Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007) The best of this bunch, and - go figure - the only one not adapted from another source. Steve Carell is a lonely widower and syndicated newspaper columnist with three daughters who meets the perfect woman (Juliette Binoche, of course) at a bookstore on the way to the annual family get-together. Unfortunately for him, she shows up at the gathering, too, on the arm of his brother (Dane Cook, because.... really?!?!?). Will Dan gain the courage to stand up for himself and go after the woman of his dreams? Yeah, it's pretty predictable, but this is never less than enjoyable, and performances kick it up to great.

Death at a Funeral (Frank Oz, 2007/Neil LaBute, 2010) Go ahead, pick one: British with swoon-worthy Matthew McFadyen or American with raucous Chris Rock. They're both hysterically funny. and they both have everyone's favorite imp, Peter Dinklage, and terrifically funny stoned performances from Alan tudyk and James Marsden respectively.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Set in a Hotel

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

Ah, hotels! The glamour! The romance! The allure of travel!

...or at least it used to be, way back when. Nowadays, hotels are either super-luxurious (and thus super-expensive) or cheap cinder-block rooms with barely any class to them at all.

Guess which I prefer?

The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich, 1934) Not the best of the Astaire-Rogers pictures, but one of their earliest and most enjoyable. All the tropes of their films are set here, and in high style (the film received an Oscar nomination for Art Direction) at a European hotel where Ginger goes to stage an affair so she can get a divorce. Edward Everett Horton is her bumbling lawyer (and was there a better, gayer bumbler in Old Hollywood?) and ex-fiancee of her much-married Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady), Erik Rhodes the man she's supposed to get caught with, and Fred of course a friend of Horton's who once nurtured a crush on Ginger. If that all sounds like every other of the pair's films, then let me help: This is the one with "Night and Day", Betty Grable, and the fabulous 20-minute finale to "The Continental".

Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) One of the great mysteries of cinema, Last Year at Marienbad sort of defies description at a plot level. It concerns a man and woman meeting at a hotel. He says they have met before, she says they have not. But in the hands of screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, founder of the "new novel", it becomes so much more: a treatise on memory, a puzzle to be solved, a gorgeous bauble to look at as a jeweler looks at a diamond.

Plaza Suite (Arthur Hiller, 1971) Neil Simon wrote three Suite plays (the other two are California and London), and this is the best. Three scenes take place in the same suite at New York's famed Plaza Hotel. These films perhaps don't feel like great choices for adaptations from the stage, as the plays are designed to take place on one set and make good use of the three-act structure, but the star turns from Barbara Harris, Lee Grant, Maureen Stapleton, and of course Walter Matthau, justify the film's existence. If you're allergic to Matthau, stay away, but otherwise, this is an alternately touching and funny picture.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks - Con Artists

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three films that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

Ready, steady, GO: Con Artists




Sorry, I'm still in a turkey coma from last week. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I had two celebrations, one on Thursday and one on Friday. This was my first year traveling to celebrate the holiday since college. And I was also cooking. So I missed last week's Thursday movie picks. :-(

So I wanted to be back this week with a vengeance.

Except that I forgot today was Thursday.


Oh well. I shall soldier on anyway! I've got one modern classic, and two Classic classics.

Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001) Effortlessly cool and with enough movie star charisma and swagger for eleven films, Soderbergh's update of the classic Rat Pack film is pure, endlessly rewatchable movie fun.

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941) Barbara Stanwyck's seduction of Henry Fonda's dim-witted mark is one for the ages.

Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933) Only Lubitsch could make a con film this sophisticated, sexy, and funny. Indelible performances from conwoman Miriam Hopkins and single socialite Kay Francis, as well as suave Hubert Marshall, the man caught between them.