Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews: Women in film edition

onenight
There’s been a lot of Internet talk lately on the subject of women in film. Rather, there is long-term discussion about how there aren’t enough great roles for women, or there aren’t enough movies starring women, and so on. I had originally planned a long post on this subject, but the more I thought about it and looked into it, I decided I really didn’t have that much to say. Are women underrepresented and undervalued in movies? Very probably. But who is responsible for that? Bigwig producers? Movie moguls? Screenwriters, or directors? Nope. It’s us. Society is at fault, for a variety of reasons. We place more value on a woman’s looks than on her intelligence or strength. We hold women to a very different standard than we do men. Films about women are somehow more demographic-specific as well, which again points to society’s focus. While women will often go and see movies about men, it is less common for men to want to watch movies about women. That seems to me to be the crux of the problem: we don’t pay to see movies that focus on women. There are actually plenty of movies out there that feature and focus on female characters, but I think that if you looked at box office numbers, you’d find that they simply don’t match up with their male-centric counterparts. And so, my bottom line is that we can complain all we want, but if we don’t put our money where our mouths are, we can’t expect change. Am I suggesting we all should have gone to the theater and seen The Heat, this summer’s lone representative of women in movies? Not necessarily, but that’s part of my point. As audiences, we are simply more excited to see a movie in which Bruce Willis beats someone up than one in which Julia Roberts has a mid-life crisis. I’m not excusing myself from that, necessarily (although I did go see Eat Pray Love in the theater); I’m merely pointing it out. Hollywood makes movies that they think will make lots of money. If we, as consumers, are not displaying an interest in a certain type of movie, it will therefore not make money, and ultimately, studios will not want to make more of a similar type of movie.

Having said all that, I’d now like to shift gears, and look at a couple of older, “classic” movies that do feature women. One is perhaps the uber-romantic comedy, in which the heroine stands equal to her hero; in the other, while men are a constant subject of conversation, there is actually not a single one to be found onscreen. I’ll just point out that the latter, The Women, was actually remade a few years ago. It turned a modest profit.

It Happened One Night (1934)

Do you ever sit down to watch a movie that’s wildly successful and worry that you won’t appreciate it? It’s critically acclaimed, say, and it won a bunch of awards, and you’re afraid that you just won’t get it? I’ve felt that way about a lot of things; some of the time I’m right, and sometimes, a movie (or a performer: Chaplin, for instance) is really as great as advertised, and you don’t have to be anyone special to understand. It Happened One Night is such a movie. It’s a screwball, romantic comedy, yet it was the first film to win all four of the major Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress). [Trivia time: name the other two!] It was directed by Frank Capra, and stars Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. And it is absolutely hilarious.

Ellie Andrews (Colbert) has just married aviator King Westley (Jameson Thomas) against the wishes of her father (Walter Connolly), who in turn essentially kidnaps her and holds her hostage on his yacht in order to talk her out of the marriage. Determined to have her own way, Ellie literally jumps ship somewhere off the coast of Florida and attempts to make the journey back to her husband in New York. Along the way, she encounters out-of-work reporter Peter Warne (Gable), who blackmails her into letting him assist her in return for a scoop. Naturally, they both get more than they bargained for.

As a strictly amateur “student” of film, I found It Happened One Night to be a fascinating, and highly entertaining, movie. It has the smart and snappy dialogue of later comedies like His Girl Friday, but the characters are more developed and nuanced than is often the case. It’s beautifully shot, with wide angles and impeccable detail.

Claudette Colbert plays a real heroine: while Ellie Andrews appears, at first glance, to be nothing more than a clueless rich girl, she is also gutsy, clever, and independent. She’s hounded by her father and by Warne (her husband is pretty much a non-entity), but she gives as good as she gets much of the time, and ultimately she is an equal partner in her life’s story, rather than a passive commodity. Knowing nothing of Clark Gable beyond Gone with the Wind, I was surprised to find him genuinely funny and likeable. He obviously made a career out of playing the gruff type, but Peter Warne is a lot more than he initially seems to be.

In the case of both characters, lesser performers would not have proven to the audience that here are two people worth falling in love with who belong together. That’s often a tall order for a romantic comedy, but It Happened One Night proves itself to be something beyond a standard rom-com, although I’m not sure what we should call it. It’s strong in both the comedic and the romantic aspects, and that’s what makes it a great film, all around.

The Women (1939)

Based upon a successful stage play by Clare Booth Luce, The Women focuses on the lives of various Manhattan socialites. While their relationships with men are a central subject, it is the relationships between the women that are really in the spotlight. Additionally, the story looks at various stereotypes of women, from the homemaker to the homewrecker. It’s a pretty skewering satire of society and relationships that, surprisingly, isn’t all that complimentary to women, despite their being the focus.

George Cukor directs an excellent cast here. Norma Shearer plays Mary, who seemingly has the perfect life but whose husband is actually seeing shopgirl Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford) on the side. Mary’s friend Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) loves to gossip about (and add to) everyone else’s troubles, Peggy (Joan Fontaine) is struggling to find a balance in her relationship, and all of this is under the microscope of the society papers. All of the performances are excellent, with each actress fully committing to her role, even as many of them serve to negatively stereotype women. In terms of the look of the film, I was particularly struck with the opening sequences, which take the viewer through a day spa where the women seem to spend their day in beautifying themselves and gossiping about their neighbors. Naturally, the costuming is excellent, and in fact, there’s a full-on fashion show about halfway through.

Ultimately, I found the film to be somewhat inconsistent, although I can’t pinpoint anything specific that gives that impression. It is less a comedy than one expects, and more a true satire. While there are some “good” characters, it’s really every woman for herself, and it’s fascinating to see how allegiances and relationships change. Despite a somewhat happy ending, The Women doesn’t pull any punches, and that’s a rare thing. For the most part, things are messier at the end than in the beginning, and perhaps that colors one’s overall perception of the film.

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2011/2012 Catch-up

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As you might recall (and that’d be awfully sweet of you), I created “wrap-up” posts for both 2011 and 2012. As part of those posts, I listed the five movies released in those years that I most wanted to see. Having watched one of said movies recently, I decided to revisit those lists to see what kind of progress I’d made, and I thought it’d be fun to share that progress with you. These are some pretty good movies, and I’d recommend nearly all of the ones I’ve seen so far; if you missed my reviews, here’s a chance to catch up. Let’s delve!

2011
Beginners: Check.
The Artist: Check.
Hugo: Check.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Check.
Midnight in Paris: Check.

Wow, all five! If you have yet to see Beginners, The Artist, or Midnight in Paris, you could definitely do worse. I was sadly disappointed with both Hugo and TTSS.

2012
Pitch Perfect: Just watched it! Super-funny, with a million great one-liners (hint: listen closely to Lily). I’m really not a fan of the a capella music craze, but most of it is palatable; overall the film is a great, sort of meta-teenage flick. Anna Kendrick seldom fails to disappoint, and if you liked Rebel Wilson’s scene-stealing turn in Bridesmaids, you’ll get more of the same here.
Moonrise Kingdom: Check.
Anna Karenina: Not yet. I have plans for a larger project involving this one, so it might be a while.
Skyfall: CHECK.
Cloud Atlas: Not yet.

Three out of five isn’t bad, I’d say, particularly since we’ve been busier this year and have seen fewer movies (I think) overall. Skyfall is the big winner here, and if you haven’t seen it, I strongly suggest you do, whether or not you’re a fan of the Bond films. I’ll just have to bump Cloud Atlas in the queue, I guess.

How about you? Any movies you’re still meaning to catch up on? I have to say, there are lots of movies due out this year that will find themselves under consideration for a 2013 wrap-up!

Reboot

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In case anyone has been concerned, yes, I am still alive. I am even still watching movies, albeit not as many as I used to. I have no excuse for being absent from this blog, really, but I’m going to be making an effort to get back to business. What I’m not going to do is try to backtrack; I’m a little too far out from some things I’ve seen recently, so writing full reviews would be hard. Instead, I’ll recap a bit for you, and we’ll move forward.

Here’s what I’ve been watching lately!

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

This was our next AFI list movie, and we didn’t enjoy it. It seems like sort of standard late sixties fare; bleak, gritty, and so on. I will say, though, that Dustin Hoffman’s performance is incredible, and that the resemblance between Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie (he’s her dad) is kind of disturbing.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Oh, you guys. When RDJ and Jude Law fail to entertain, something is wrong.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

This is more like it. Possibly my new second-favorite superhero movie (right after The Avengers). The script and direction of Shane Black were awesome, and all of the acting was top-notch. RDJ as Tony Stark continues to put in a performance that ought to receive more real recognition. Highly recommended.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

I’m really late in seeing this, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Seeing this many awesome British actors in one place is great, but the plot was just a little too opaque, and honestly, I can name half a dozen other Gary Oldman performances that he ought to have received Oscar nominations for. It’s a very well-made movie, but it’s really hard to follow, and is ultimately unsatisfying.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Why yes, this does mean that we have seen two films in the theater recently. I know, it’s a miracle. I felt sort of ambivalent about seeing this one; the first one was fun, and I like Eric Bana, but this one didn’t have a favorite actor to recommend it. I’m by no means a novice to the world of Star Trek, but I’m not a die-hard, either, so I could’ve gone either way. However, this was a really fun watch. I was further impressed with the re-characterizations of Spock, Bones, and Kirk (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Chris Pine), and was happy that a few female characters (Zoe Saldana and Alice Eve) were given a reasonable amount to do. Benedict Cumberbatch was physically impressive but emotively inconsistent as the main baddy, and hey! Peter Weller shows up! The story and plot struck me as fairly solid, although the last 30 minutes or so get a bit bogged down, and could’ve been edited more strenuously. A totally worthwhile addition to summer blockbuster season, though.

I also recently rewatched some favorites, which I don’t get to do all that often. I don’t think I’ve written a love letter to Gosford Park yet, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

How about you? What’s been on your radar lately?

Review: Up (2009)

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Let’s just get it out of the way, shall we? I am not a Pixar fan. There are a lot of little reasons, I guess, like the fact that I don’t really care for CGI or computer animation, the standard humor of modern kid’s movies annoys me, stuff like that. In the main, though, I’ve been unable to pinpoint my dislike of Pixar’s films. This is not to say that I hated them all; most of them were mildly entertaining. I enjoyed Monsters, Inc. I really loved The Incredibles. But overall, there’s something lacking for me. Still, I try to keep an open mind, and so we recently watched Up.

Carl (voiced by Ed Asner, but he looks like a cartoon Spencer Tracy) is a crotchety old man, mourning the loss of Ellie, the love of his life. They bonded as children over a love of adventure and exploration, but as adults, they got caught up in the mundane and never chased their dreams. When Carl finds himself in danger of losing his house, he decides to make the grand voyage he and Ellie always planned. Together with an unwitting stowaway, Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), Carl embarks on a wild adventure to Paradise Falls. Along the way he tangles with his boyhood hero, Charles Muntz (voice: Christopher Plummer, look: Kirk Douglas), whose single-minded obsession with proving the existence of an exotic bird has driven him mad. Ultimately, Carl re-discovers himself through his experiences, and learns to let go of the past and look to the future.

Up has all the usual hallmarks of a Pixar production: excellent voice cast, imaginative story, great visuals, funny little additions here and there. It’s hard to argue with the technical aspects, since they are generally flawless. I will say that the Pixar schtick of giving animals voices without anthropomorph-izing (totally a word) them, per se, is funny at first, but grates a little after a while. I know stuff like that is tossed in to make the kiddies laugh, but it doesn’t amuse me, particularly. I love older children’s movies, so it’s something about the newer stuff that bothers me, but that’s another post for another time.

Partway through Up, I realized what it is that I don’t enjoy about Pixar’s ouvre. In most cases (and like most movies), they have a message. A moral, if you will. And that’s fine, but it’s Pixar’s execution that doesn’t sit well. Their films are too finely calibrated. It’s as though someone wrote a computer program with an algorithm designed to search out each and every concept that tugs at a heartstring, and then put that concept into play within the greater context of the film. Hit this mark, move on to the next mark. Charming montage of childhood sweethearts growing old together, check. Lonely boy with absentee dad, check. Appreciation for unspoiled nature, check. And so on.

I know this is not a widely-held viewpoint, but I didn’t feel like there was any heart or humanity to the movie. It was all too slick, too perfect. That perfection may be, for many, the draw of Pixar’s films, but for me, I think that there is a great deal that gets lost. Had actors been portraying those roles, there would have been a thousand little nuances to their performances that showed us their sadness, their need. In the case of an animated film, we are left to understand those concepts without really seeing evidence of them. An illustration can only go so far; it can only show human emotion on a basic level.

The Pixar films that succeed (for me) are the ones that are not attempting to delve deeper into emotion: The Incredibles is a cartoon action flick. Monsters, Inc. has a sweetness to it, but it’s not trying to go too far. Most of the others don’t reach the emotional depths they’re reaching for. I’m not trying to tell anyone not to watch Up, or any other Pixar film. I’m well aware of their success, and it’s cool that people of all ages can enjoy them. I even look forward to sharing them with my daughter when she’s old enough for them. But I’ll still wish that they were a little less perfect, and had just a little bit more heart.

The Snow White Wars, decided

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally ready to decide who really is the fairest of them all. In this corner, we have Snow White and the Huntsman (henceforward known as SW&TH), a dark and gritty retelling of the fairy tale. In the other, Mirror Mirror, full of saturated colors and quippy one-liners. Who will emerge victorious? Ready? En garde…FENCE.

Starring as Snow White…Lily Collins vs. Kristen Stewart
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First things first. There are those among you (Hi, Ben!) who will be disappointed to learn that there will be no K. Stew bashing here. SW&TH is actually the first thing in which I’ve seen the erstwhile Bella Swann, and I have to say that I enjoyed her performance. She wasn’t burning up the screen or anything, but I thought that her bewilderment (perhaps natural) suited the role and that ultimately, the flaws in the character were due to poor writing rather than poor acting. Her “rousing the troops” speech was quite good.

Lily Collins, on the other hand, had more to work with, and capitalized on a great deal of personal charm. Her Snow was spunky, kind-hearted, and mischievous, none of which require a great deal of acting, but which she conveyed well, nonetheless. Like Stewart, she did not employ a great deal of range, nor was much needed. Her chemistry with Armie Hammer was weak, but since their relationship was hardly dynamic, it didn’t matter.

Winner: Lily Collins. Overall, she did a better job of selling the role and carrying the action.

As the Evil Queen…Julia Roberts vs. Charlize Theron

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I’m a Julia Roberts fan. I know she’s not the most amazing actor ever, but she’s generally enjoyable to watch, and her turn as the Wicked Stepmother was no exception. I thought she was hilarious. She was snarky and appropriately vain, and clearly not a nice person. Since this version of the Snow White story was obviously meant to be a comedy, I think Roberts was a great choice as an actress willing to laugh at herself.

Here’s something that you may not have known. Ready? Listen up. CHARLIZE THERON IS TERRIFYING. In Mirror, Mirror, Julia Roberts makes the claim early on that it is [her] story, and not Snow White’s. That proves to be false, but in the case of SW&TH, it is Theron’s movie from beginning to end. She is chewing up the scenery like there is no tomorrow. If Roberts was willing to laugh at herself, Theron was willing to go full-on psycho with crazy eyes and snarling delivery. Her Evil Queen was literally the stuff of nightmares.

Winner: Charlize Theron. Girlfriend deserved an award for that performance. Seriously.

The Love Interests…Sam Claflin/Chris Hemsworth
vs. Armie Hammer



When I first realized that SW&TH was including a “prince” (Claflin) in addition to the Huntsman (Hemsworth), I thought it was a ridiculous idea. But, it really worked within the framework of the story. I enjoyed Claflin’s role, William, more than I thought I would as well. Both he and Hemsworth had good chemistry with Stewart (no, really), and William actually was a more developed character in some ways than the other two leads. Hemsworth wasn’t given a lot to do besides grumble and look beefy, which he did perfectly well, although I wish they’d just let him keep his own accent. One of the biggest failings of the movie, for me, was that what he and Stewart had to work with was not great. Theron was given all the good dialogue, or something. Maybe they’ll fix that in the (sigh) sequel?

Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is the exact opposite of either William or The Huntsman. Oh, he’s still beefy and heroic, but he’s also really funny. Hammer gets full marks for the scenes in which he is under a “puppy love” spell. Beyond that, he was a competent swordsman and has a fabulous speaking voice, but (as previously mentioned) had next to no chemistry with his Princess.

Winner: TIE. I really wanted either Hemsworth or Hammer to sell me, and they didn’t. The addition of Claflin was more interesting than I’d bargained for, but still doesn’t sway the balance for SW&TH.

The Dwarves



Ah, the dwarves. A necessary part of the Snow White story, but in this case, something of a controversial topic, which I don’t really care to discuss in detail. Briefly, SW&TH chose to use actors of a “regular size” to play the dwarves, whereas Mirror Mirror utilized little people (please note that the Internet says this is the PC term. If that is incorrect, please let me know). I don’t wish to be offensive, but to my mind, the rationale has a lot to do with the role that the dwarves play within the two stories. In SW&TH, the dwarves are reasonably serious characters, very similar to those of Tolkien. They are a proud people who have been cast out, and so they join in Snow White’s fight to free themselves. The dwarves in Mirror Mirror have the same motivation, but it’s a comedy, so they’re mostly there to be funny, and, well, there are notably few “serious” actors of a smaller size. Having said that, both septets are effective and enjoyable to watch. In the case of SW&TH, sadly, they don’t quite live up to potential considering we’re talking actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins*, and Toby Jones. Are you noticing a theme?

*This is Bob Hoskins’ final film, as he has now retired from acting due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Very, very sad news.

Winner: TIE. Even if the dwarves of SW&TH didn’t have enough to do, they actually provided a lot of the emotional punch of the film, so they even out with the more-present crew from Mirror Mirror.

Visual Effects



The director of Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh, is well-known for his use of super-saturated color to produce striking visuals (see: The Fall). However, I was actually somewhat disappointed by the visuals here. Snow White and the Queen stood out from their surroundings due to brightly colored clothing, but for the most part, color was not a major player. Additionally, special effects were kept to a minimum (which I always appreciate). The Queen’s use of the mirror and a surprisingly creepy fight scene were the only notable exceptions.

On the other hand, the visuals were SW&TH’s strongest point (Theron notwithstanding). Director Rupert Sanders did a fantastic job of creating stark and striking landscapes, and while there were plenty of effects, they were never overdone or obviously computer-generated, which is a pet peeve of mine. All of the effects combined to provide a cohesive vision, from the Forest to the Queen’s magic army, to the magical creatures encountered by Snow White on her journey.

Winner: SW&TH. Visual effects aren’t something that I normally notice (unless they’re bad), and I was really impressed with these. Don’t believe me? Both films were nominated for the Oscar for Costume Design, but Huntsman got the nod for Visual Effects as well.

Script



As has been previously mentioned, SW&TH was seriously lacking in the writing department. The story itself was a great idea, but it fell apart when the characters needed to talk to each other. Dialogue was primarily used for exposition as opposed to character development, and as a result some of the characters were fairly static. This is often the case with regard to heroes and heroines, but they can still be fully-fleshed-out characters, even if they’re a little single-minded.

Mirror Mirror’s dialogue, full of snappy one-liners, was quite entertaining. Having some seasoned professionals like Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane around doesn’t hurt, but everyone acquitted themselves well in this respect. The story itself was rather more straightforward, and I’m not saying that the characters were any more developed than in Huntsman, but it was just more fun to listen to them talk. In a full-on comedy, it’s a bit more palatable for the dwarves to also be funny, and Lily Collins displayed surprisingly effective timing.

Winner: Mirror Mirror. It’s not award-winning dialogue, but it was totally effective within the context of the film.

And the winner is…

If you tally up the categories, you’ll find the two movies have reached a tie. As far as it goes, I do think that they were reasonably equal in terms of “tangibles.” Both entertaining films, solid B pluses. However. Remember that theme I mentioned earlier? Time and again, SW&TH reached for something greater, and fell just a bit short. I have no complaints with the actors. The film was great to look at. The story, with all of its extra interpretation and exposition, was a really fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t live up to the idea. Snow White and the Huntsman could have been a really great movie, but it misses out on its full potential.

Conversely, Mirror Mirror isn’t trying to do anything fancy. It’s a semi-modernized, light look at the fairy tale. Everyone performs adequately, and it’s a totally entertaining way to spend a couple of hours (give or take). While the visuals may have been a bit disappointing given the film’s director, they weren’t bad, and didn’t detract from anything overall. Lily Collins, despite being a newcomer, manages to carry the film admirably well, and if you’re not a Julia Roberts hater, I think you’ll find her an entertaining, not-too-villainous villain. And so, by the slightest of margins, I declare Mirror Mirror the official winner of the Snow White Wars. Both movies are totally worth watching for the popcorn factor, and have markedly different interpretations to offer, but the lost promise of Snow White and the Huntsman was a sad disappointment.

Review: The Night of the Iguana (1964)

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The Night of the Iguana, adapted from the Tennessee Williams play by director John Huston and Anthony Veiller, is simultaneously lighter and more opaque than other Williams adaptations like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. The action follows a disgraced clergyman, Rev. Shannon (Richard Burton), who has been reduced to curating bus tours in Mexico. His past starts to catch up with him when the hostile leader of a tour group (Grayson Hall) discovers his dalliance with Charlotte (Sue Lyon), an underage girl under her charge. In an attempt to stall his ruin, Shannon waylays the group at a rundown hotel near Puerto Vallarta which is run by Maxine (Ava Gardner), an earthy American woman who harbors feelings for the erstwhile man of God. The arrival at the hotel of itinerant painter Hannah (Deborah Kerr) and her aged poet grandfather (Cyril Delevanti) adds to the chaos of the scene, even while Hannah attempts to smooth everything over. The meat of the film is an emotional night of breakdowns and soul-searching conversation, climaxing in the completion of the poet’s last poem. Ultimately, The Night of the Iguana has something of a happier ending than one would generally expect from a Williams piece, although not without some ambiguity.

It sort of sounds like a wacky rom-com, doesn’t it? There are certainly moments where the drama almost seems to be played for laughs. At first glance, Burton’s “defrocked” priest is an over-the-top caricature: often drunk, wide-eyed and indignant, feigning innocence when caught red-handed. Even in despair, he seems to be playing a part rather than truly suffering. It is in his quiet moments that Burton peels back the layers to reveal Shannon’s pain. Though boorish on the outside, he’s really a deeply faithful man who loves God and all his creations, but who sees humanity’s hypocrisy as the ultimate disappointment. He is a keen observer of human nature, able to cut others to the core when he lashes out. It is up to Maxine and Hannah to restore his faith in humanity, and they both make the attempt in highly individual ways that would seem to represent the struggle between emotion and reason. Maxine is a hedonist, but she has a good heart and seems to genuinely care for Shannon. Meanwhile Hannah is more aloof, but it is her cool rationality and quiet faith that brings Shannon back to himself. Both Gardner and Kerr fill these roles memorably; it was fascinating to watch two actresses, a little bit beyond their prime, use their age and experience to truly provide their characters with the right sensibilities. Gardner in particular is riveting as a woman who knows she is no longer young, but still relies on her sexual appeal and presents a facade of independence while fearing the loneliness of growing older. Kerr is perfectly cast as her polar opposite: Hannah is not without feeling, but she has made her peace with being a “spinster,” and fills her life with travel and experience instead of companionship.

The Night of the Iguana is something of a departure from the typical “play-turned-film.” There is a fair amount of movement and action in the first half of the movie, during which the tour group is traveling through Mexico. Even when the location settles on Maxine’s inn, something about the direction and the performances of the three leads manages to seem more dynamic than many theatrical adaptations. Although shot in black and white, Huston still manages to capture the lush vegetation and beauty of his location, and indeed is credited with putting Puerto Vallarta on the map as a tourist destination. The scenery adds to the heat and passion of the production; it’s easy to imagine the sultry night bringing out ugly truths and revelations. In the final estimation, the film belongs to its three leading performers, however. Burton does seem to be chewing the scenery at times, but I think that this behavior is a part of his character: Shannon enjoys the dramatics and is even called out for it by Hannah at one point. Kerr and Gardner are a match for Burton, and all three are greatly entertaining to watch. As with most Williams, there’s a lot going on here, and it feels as though multiple viewings might be needed in order to truly understand the depths that the film is trying to reach, but for good direction, cinematography, and excellent performances, you really can’t go wrong here.

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The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Normally, war and post-war films are seriously depressing. Think The Deerhunter. Oy. But we were pleasantly surprised by The Best Years of Our Lives, which is #37 on the AFI list. Winner of 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for William Wyler, the film follows three soldiers as they return home after World War II. Portrayed by Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell, the three men struggle to re-assimilate themselves into normal society and their personal lives. All three give impressive performances, with March and Russell both winning Oscars. Russell in particular is affecting as a young man who has lost both arms below the elbow. He really did lose both arms, and so was selected for the film to provide a realistic perspective on veterans with disabilities. As a whole, the film is amazingly perceptive (and still relevant) in its views on the amount (or lack) of concern shown to returning veterans. Hollywood has long had a “liberal” slant, and The Best Years of Our Lives definitely showcases that. Despite a “happy” ending, the film still manages to be affecting and sincere, and is even a little bit controversial in addressing concepts like divorce and extra-marital affairs. Co-starring Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright, The Best Years of Our Lives is totally worth a watch, even if you’re normally afraid of post-war films like we are.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Oh, Wes Anderson. So quirky and charming. I think I tend to enjoy his films despite myself, and it’s possible that Moonrise Kingdom might be my favorite so far. This is due almost entirely to a crack cast that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton (SWINTON). These are all seasoned professionals, and you can count on them to be perfect. Still, the movie is not about the adults, but rather about a pair of young misfits, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) who find love and understanding with each other. Both of these young actors played their parts perfectly (keep an eye out for Hayward. I’m predicting big things from her), and their romance was so refreshing when compared to most rom-coms these days, which seem to focus mainly on sex and neuroses. For Sam and Suzy, their feelings are based upon finding someone who sees and accepts them as they really are. They’re actually the sane ones in the equation when compared with their adult counterparts. Great love story, great performances, the usual fantastic look and feel of an Anderson film…I might venture so far as to call this one a “must-see.”