Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

What do you get when you cross magical realism (-ish) with sweeping commentary on the ills of modern society, including but not limited to: race, corporate America, slavery, art, entertainment, and social media? For the sake of argument, I’m going to tell you that you get Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s funny, smart, mind-boggling feature film debut. I watched this movie a week ago and I’ve been trying to let it percolate since in the hopes that I will magically happen upon divine insight that will amaze and convince my readers. That seems unlikely, but here we go.

We meet Cassius Green (say it out loud) at a job interview. On paper, he seems to be a stellar individual – he’s even brought along trophies and plaques to prove it. Turns out they’re fake, but Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) finds himself hired by Regalview Telemarketing anyway.  His dreams of making bank seem dashed until an old hand (Danny Glover) suggests to him that he use his “white voice” to make calls – he should sound like he’s “without a care in the world … [a] guy who doesn’t even need this job at all.” He should sound, according to Glover, like the person his potential customers want to sound like themselves.

This theme turns up a lot throughout the movie –  Cassius finds himself in a constant struggle with his identity. Early on a friend suggests that he’s only “sort of” black, and indeed, he finds great success in pretending to be white – his “white voice” (which sounds like David Cross) quickly promotes him to the upper echelons of telemarking. While his friends are attempting to unionize, Cassius becomes a “power caller” and is suddenly rolling in style with a new car, new clothes, and an entree to fancy parties. This identity doesn’t fit quite right either, though. His new-found success alienates him from his friends, including artist/activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and he finds his product (WorryFree: a human workforce that looks suspiciously like slavery) a bit off-putting even as he’s making million-dollar deals.

All of this comes to a head when Cassius meets the CEO and Founder of WorryFree, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). It becomes clear that WorryFree’s agenda is not altruistic and might, in fact, be downright evil. This final of act of Cassius’ struggle to find his identity finds him attempting to make a u-turn and do what is right, even if it might cost him wealth and independence. It’s also where the movie goes from “entertainingly odd” to “entertainingly batshit crazy,” but I’m not going to give anything away here.

Sorry to Bother You is really hard to pigeonhole. The performances are all great, with Lakeith Stanfield leading the way. Cassius is very much a sympathetic, Everyman character. He just wants to get by and basically be a good human being. He wants to be valued and respected and we see how that directs his decisions and causes him confusion when things don’t quite work out the way he expected. The movie is also visually fascinating – there’s a lot of play with lightness and darkness that I don’t even want to try and interpret. The fantastical aspects are used sparingly but to great effect: in addition to  Cassius’ “white voice,” he also finds himself physically dropped into close contact with the people he’s speaking to on the phone, regardless of whether or not they’re on the toilet or in the middle of having sex. At some points it leads the viewer to question whether or not Cassius is an entirely reliable narrator – the “white voice” is real, but the crashing into someone’s living room is imagined? What else, then, is real or imagined? The lines are quite effectively blurred.

There are a lot of ideas to focus on. Initially I wished that Mr. Riley had chosen just one of two to focus on: all of the statements he’s making are good ones that are worthy of more thought, but I found it difficult to keep track of. There’s Cassius’ identity, with what it means to be black (or white, for that matter) front and center. The few white people in the movie are varying levels of awful, and it’s very clear that their understanding of the black experience is based on what entertainment and “the media” would have us believe. A scene in which Lift and a crowd of white party-goers are disappointed when Cassius doesn’t have tales of gang violence and can’t rap is by turns hilarious and cringe-worthy. There’s corporate America, with its new spin on slavery, vs. art and independence. Cassius and his friends want to be self-reliant and to care about their fellow humans, but they’re also on the hook for rent. The issue of unionization figures prominently into that as well – can one’s own self-promotion function alongside a fight for the common good? The role of media and entertainment in the film is particularly interesting. The most popular show on television is apparently something called “I Got the Shit Kicked Out Of Me,” which is literally watching people get beaten up (in addition to other, apparently non-life-threatening? pleasantries). Cassius’ experience crossing a picket line (resulting in physical injury) immediately goes viral, resulting in memes and Halloween costumes, both of which he uses to his advantage later in the film. Its a somewhat damning but not really unfair look at today’s culture.

Ultimately, what I realize is that all of these themes can be tied to the bigger idea of what it means to be a person in today’s world. We are told different things by corporate culture, by entertainment and the media, by social media, by our own hearts. Which lead do we follow? We need to work to live, but we also need validation: we want to be special, to be good at something. Entertainment culture these days would have us all believe we’re just one viral video away from fame and fortune. But of course, what price fame? If we sell our souls for that fancy car, can we also concern ourselves with the good of others? Can we be famous without making other sacrifices? And where does it end? Is there one breaking point or do we all draw our own lines in the sand? While it may not be for everyone, Sorry to Bother You will definitely leave you with more questions than you walked in with, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for the answers.

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Lakeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer in Sorry to Bother You

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)

 

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Kate McKinnon & Mila Kunis in The Spy Who Dumped Me

For the second installment of my “Ladies’ Night at the Movies” outing, I got together a group of friends to go see The Spy Who Dumped Me. This was an excellent choice for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s hard to get adults together! We’re busy. Second of all, it’s a little bit of a feminist agenda: Women spending money to watch movies made by women. Beyond that, it was great to see friends and a fun movie at the same time, and The Spy Who Dumped Me is a very fun – and entertaining – movie.

Co-written and directed by Susanna Fogel, The Spy Who Dumped Me opens in true spy-thriller fashion, with a fight and chase sequence through an Eastern European marketplace. We watch a handsome man fight his way through a crowd of enemies, run through bustling streets, leap out of windows, and ultimately blow up a building before coolly walking away. Standard stuff that cuts to a very Bond-ian opening credits sequence. But then we’re introduced to Audrey (Mila Kunis), who is having a lousy birthday. Turns out her boyfriend, Drew (Justin Theroux), just dumped her via text. What do these two things have in common? The ex-boyfriend, is, of course, the handsome spy, and when he learns that Audrey is burning his left-behind belongings, he is forced to return in order to retrieve an item which is, naturally, something every intelligence force in the world is after. In short order, Audrey and Morgan find themselves on the run through Europe with a horde of operatives on their tails. These operatives include another handsome individual named Sebastian (Sam Heughan) who may or may not be on their side. Will they blunder their way to safety and save the world in the process? The movie is a comedy, so I’ll just let you figure that one out.

This is a funny movie. I laughed a lot. I’m unable to remember any specific jokes, but I tend to think that’s a good thing; they were neither so clever as to alienate the audience, nor did they resort to easy, gross-out humor for the most part. In structure, Spy… is a true representative of the spy genre, which made it even funnier. There were aborted drop-offs, vehicle commandeerings, disguises, escapes, and double-crosses all right where you’d expect them. There was even torture and, as many reviewers have pointed out, a surprisingly high body count. I found myself wondering a bit about that: What, exactly, made the body count surprising? Was it that the movie was a comedy? Was it that the main characters were women? Having literally just watched Atomic Blonde, I didn’t find the violence surprising or egregious. It may have been a bit more bloody than your average Bond vehicle,  but not shockingly so.

That the main characters were occupying the role of victims rather than people who make a living from killing may have added to the shock value, but that is also what made the movie interesting. We’ve all wondered what we might do if we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of international intrigue, and these two women let us imagine it. They’re just average people, but by virtue of their life experiences, they find a way. Audrey plays a lot of shooter video games, and Morgan is a struggling actress; both traits that come to their aid at crucial moments. Some of their ideas don’t work so well, but ultimately the fact that they are viewed as “stupid Americans” works in their favor, and they are consistently underestimated by their enemies. It’s a clever way to advance the story and again, put the viewer into the adventure in an engaging way.

It helps that both Kunis and McKinnon (maybe less so, in her case) have an air of “everywoman” about them to begin with. A Charlize Theron or an Angelina Jolie could not pull off Audrey, but Mila’s down-to-earth delivery makes her seem like someone we might be friends with. And let me tell you: you want to be friends with these women. Their friendship,  particularly as evidenced by Kate McKinnon’s Morgan, is the best thing about The Spy Who Dumped Me. There’s nothing specifically marking the film’s point in time, but the characterizations of the women definitely suggest the present, post-2016 election, #MeToo movement day. Morgan is all about affirming the women around her, most particularly Audrey. She frequently pauses in the middle of running for their lives to tell Audrey how proud she is of her. Early on, she hilariously attempts to “indoctrinate” a Ukrainian boor in the ways of feminism. She even has praise for the creepy gymnast/assassin Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno) in the midst of being tortured for information. While McKinnon can frequently be over-the-top, here that persona is written into her character and the result is a charmingly zany but real woman who is tough but open to life’s experiences. That openness makes the movie’s few heartfelt moments between Audrey and Morgan something special that we don’t often get to see in cinematic female friendships.

I was initially very skeptical about seeing The Spy Who Dumped Me. While the idea of a female-led action spoof is great on paper, the execution can often be trickier. I’m pleased to say that in this case, the film succeeds. The performances are all excellent, the script is tight, the laughs are genuine, and the story can be forgiven for being a little predictable, simply because that’s what you’re supposed to do when sending up a genre. As with most of Hollywood, there could have been more diversity (a small handful of speaking roles for people of color) but given the film focuses on a loving and supportive friendship between two women, let’s take it one step at a time. If you’ve been on the fence, definitely go see The Spy Who Dumped Me, and bring some women with you.

 

Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Happy birthday, Charlize Theron! I got you this review!

I am, generally speaking, a fan of female-led action movies. Admittedly I should probably watch more of them, but I’m a fan in theory, if nothing else. My love for Angelina Jolie has been well-documented, and I’ve enjoyed seeing more and more women show up in the MCU. While we’ve finally gotten our Wonder Woman, we’re still waiting on that Black Widow stand-alone, and there still haven’t been any particularly good action franchises starring a woman. There were high hopes for various Jolie vehicles, but beyond that, women still aren’t kicking ass at the same level as the guys. But, as a surprise to no-one, I’m sure, Charlize Theron is a great addition to the world of women who kick ass.

Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 operative in the midst of the Cold War 80s. She’s sent to Berlin (on the verge of bringing down the Wall) to retrieve the body of another agent and to finish his mission, which was to retrieve a list of all known operatives on all sides. In addition, she is tasked with discovering the identity of Satchel, a double-agent who is also working for the Russians. Her primary contact in Berlin is David Percival (James Mcavoy), an agent who has perhaps gone a bit too far in embedding himself into the culture of the Berlin underground. Naturally, everyone is after this list as well as a Stasi agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who claims to have fully memorized its contents. Broughton must contend not only with numerous KGB operatives, but also with a French agent (Sofia Boutella) who may or may not be trustworthy. It’s a maze of loyalties and agendas that she must navigate in order to complete her mission and stay alive.

Atomic Blonde is fast and fun. It’s a little sloppy on the details, but those aren’t terribly important when you compare them to a killer 80s soundtrack and intensely stylish set design and cinematography. The movie is based on a graphic novel entitled The Coldest City, and the look and feel truly calls that to mind. While not totally shot in black and white, much of the scenes seem devoid of color except for a pop here and there. Lorraine herself wears an almost entirely black and white wardrobe, and most of the other characters appear in muted colors. The result is something beautiful, sleek, cold. The chill of the Cold War is almost an extra character, enhanced by the lack of warmth from the characters themselves, not to mention Lorraine’s predilection for ice baths and vodka on the rocks.

In addition to the visuals, the film features great performances from Theron and McAvoy. I feel a little ashamed to admit that, despite it being Theron’s movie, McAvoy is actually the standout. He is having a GRAND time as the feral and ambiguous Percival. In contrast, Theron is a little too one-note. While trying to be the standard poker-faced spy, she comes across as being unengaged, and her slipshod accent (which may be purposeful) doesn’t help matters any. Fortunately, she’s fantastic to watch, and the action alone make it all worthwhile. One of the things I particularly appreciated about her fight scenes is that they are not the typical, street/martial arts-style sequences we’re used to. They are brutal. Anything close to hand is used as a deadly weapon (stiletto heel, skateboard, keys, garden hose?). People get their faces beaten into a bloody pulp. Lorraine herself seldom escapes without a scratch – in fact there are more scenes in which opponents are visibly exhausted and barely able to stand, let alone fight, than I think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a welcome (if violent) dose of realism in a genre that often seeks to give its heroes superhuman status.

It’s hard to say too much about the movie without giving away all the twists and turns. I’ve come to realize that I often prefer movies or shows where it is more difficult for me to guess what is going to happen next. In the case of Atomic Blonde, I definitely had a bit of trouble following who was on which side and what was being accomplished as opposed to what had gone wrong. Still, I would say that the audience is ultimately satisfied (if slightly confused) and while we may not root for Lorraine, strictly speaking, we at least have a healthy respect for her methods and abilities. It would be interesting to see how the character of Lorraine Broughton might return to the screen (and actually, according to IMDb a sequel is in development!) and hey: If Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts well into his fifties, I say we give Theron a shot.

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Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde.

Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

After the dramatic and awesome one-two punch of Black Panther and Infinity War, it was hard not to feel skeptical about Marvel’s decision to release the second Ant-Man movie in the middle of the summer blockbuster season. Do we still care about the little guy? Do we  (okay, I) need a break from all these superhero goings-on?  Maybe. But, as you might expect, it turns out Kevin Feige and the gang knows exactly what they’re doing, and I was wrong, once again, to doubt them.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect summer popcorn flick. If it existed in a world without the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, we’d still be blown away by it. I said of the first Ant-Man (2015) that it was a “surprisingly enjoyable little action flick,” with a stellar cast and solid execution. As such, director Peyton Reed didn’t mess with his formula too much: he added a few more excellent additions to the cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, and Hannah John Kamen, amongst others), kept the winning combo of action, humor, and heart … boom. Box-office gold.

I’ve been asked a couple of times if it is necessary to be caught up on the MCU in order to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp, and by and large the answer is no. The action picks up immediately following the events of Civil War, but those events are not relevant beyond the fact that we find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) on house arrest for his involvement. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) are on the run from the Feds as well, but are working on a quantum tunnel which will theoretically allow them to find Hope’s mom, Janet (Pfeiffer), who has been lost/presumed dead in the quantum realm for decades.  Naturally, the three are forced to team up again in order to achieve their goal, and of course, a bunch of other people are trying to stop them. They include Randall Park as the FBI agent assigned to Lang, Walton Goggins as a sleazy businessman who wants to get into quantum tech, and Ghost (John-Kamen), who joins the ranks of the new type of Marvel villain who is not so much evil as misunderstood.

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Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd as the Wasp and Ant-Man

One of the most impressive aspects of the movie is that it manages to juggle all those people and interweave their various storylines into a cohesive unit. The pace is quick but comfortable, and there’s plenty of time for humor and heartfelt moments. The film almost feels like an homage to Ferris Bueller: Lang’s out having adventures but also has to make sure he doesn’t get caught out of the house.  The jokes strike just the right balance and the running gags, mostly courtesy of Michael Pena, TI Harris, and David Dastmalchian as Scott’s trio of business associates, never get old. The characters and their relationships were so well-defined in the first movie that we can spend more time catching up with the characters, rather than learning more about who they are and where they’re at with each other.

The biggest, and most important, change is that Hope has taken on the mantle of The Wasp. She’s the first female superhero in the MCU to receive title credit! Evangeline Lilly steps into full superhero mode like she was born to it, and matches Paul Rudd beat-for-beat. In a way, The Wasp is a more stereotypical hero than Ant-Man. Part of what makes Rudd so likable in the role (aside from his endless charisma) is his Everyman persona; while he has certain skills, he’s not a genius (which is frequently played to great comedic effect). He’s not supremely noble like Cap or endowed with any superhuman qualities, whereas in addition to being a skilled fighter, Hope is a brilliant scientist in her own right and has a laser-like focus on obtaining her goals. They balance each other wonderfully and make a great team.

One of the things that makes the MCU so compelling is the mix of epic and personal storytelling. After a world-shattering event like Infinity War, scaling things back to the lives and experiences of a few individuals was definitely the right choice. When they’re done well, these small-scale pieces are no less compelling than the grand ensemble films. Other reviewers have pointed to Spiderman: Homecoming as the best example of a stand-alone episode that loses nothing in enjoyment despite its lack of global consequence. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another great instance of this. The stakes are truly confined to Scott Lang, the Pym/van Dyne family, and a few others, and that intimacy allows for more of a connection with the characters and makes their stories more personal.

That Marvel can combine that kind of storytelling with blockbuster action and effects is a testament to what they’ve built in the MCU, and it’s what keeps viewers coming back for more. If you’re caught up, the second Ant-Man installment is a palate-cleanser; you’ll have fun and feel refreshed before we return to more bombast next year (CAPTAIN MARVEL YOU GUYS!!). If you’ve been sporadic in watching the MCU, you’ll still have a blast watching this movie and my only suggestion would be to skip the mid- and post-credit sequences. Either way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the perfect way to spend a few hours this summer; air-conditioning will feel like a bonus.

 

Review: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

When I came back to the blog recently, it was interesting for me to note that my last post (five years ago) had been about women in movies. These days “women in movies” is a hot topic. Women are coming forward about sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood, pay disparities are being highlighted (and sometimes corrected), more women are being put behind the camera, and so on. Obviously things have a long way to go before we can declare Hollywood (or anywhere) a truly equitable industry, but the conversations are important in and of themselves. On-screen, too, there’s been movement toward female-led ensemble casts, from Bridesmaids to a Ghostbusters reboot, and now, Ocean’s 8.

I’m not going to go into the premise too much. The original Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a Rat Pack vehicle set in Vegas. The updated Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels featured an all-star cast led by George Clooney engaging in heists and shenanigans. Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. Ocean’s 8 finds us following a complex plan concocted by Danny Ocean (Clooney)’s little sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) to steal a 6-pound diamond necklace off the neck of a starlet (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Naturally, she invites a gang of friends along to assist, hijinks ensue, we get a few twists along the way… Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. With an all-star, all-FEMALE cast!

Ocean’s 8 is a fun, entertaining movie. The cast (including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and Awkwafina) boasts an absurd amount of talent, and everyone delivers. While the script is not quite as zingy as one might like, there are still plenty of great moments and inside jokes. The formula follows that of the earlier Ocean’s movies with a few winks and nods to fans, including cameos by two of the original gang. There are also a number of fun details for fans of both the fashion and film industries; Anna Wintour being interrupted watching a Roger Federer match, Katie Holmes & Zac Posen seated together at the Gala, the requisite cameos of famous Gala attendees, Sandra Bullock getting to employ her fluency in German. And of course, everyone is wearing fabulous clothes (I personally would very much like to have Blanchett’s entire wardrobe). The movie ticks off all the boxes you’d expect from a summer blockbuster, but with a little something extra.

While there may be complaints like “Why do the girls have to rob the Met Gala?” and “How does Sandra Bullock’s hair look so great in prison?”, the movie is really very aware of itself and the different world its characters occupy by virtue of their sex. Anne Hathaway has been rightfully acknowledged as a stand-out for her slyly funny take on a seemingly stereotypically ditzy, self-obsessed starlet. She’s more than she seems, of course, and Hathaway’s portrayal is clearly designed to acknowledge that as an actress, she herself has been viewed through the lens she’s portraying. Bullock delivers a great line at one point about how she wants the team to be women because women are so often ignored, and that’s what is needed for the plan to work. And there’s no love interest! There’s an oily ex (Richard Armitage) in need of comeuppance, but his place in the proceedings is that of a pawn, rather than a prize to be won.

It is often the case that movies with women need to be doubly good to be successful,  and that they are often more harshly criticized when they fail to live up to the standards set by a more conventional (male-dominated) film. When we think about true equality in movies, what we’re really talking about is the ability for women to star in a mediocre film that is nonetheless successful and is viewed as a working formula. Too much time has likely been spent comparing Ocean’s 8 to Ocean’s Eleven, which doesn’t help anyone. But, if we insist on thinking about it in those terms, it is perhaps not as good as Eleven, but is much better than Twelve –  which means, if we can hope that Hollywood will be consistent in how they bankroll projects –  I look forward to seeing Ocean’s 9 in theaters sometime in the next couple of years.

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Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna in Ocean’s 8 (2018)

 

Reviews: Women in film edition

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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.

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!