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Little Giant (1946)
Bud and Lou, not as a team
Abbott and Costello star in "Little Giant", and it's got some of their usual stuff, but they don't appear as a team in this movie. Lou is a sap hoping to make his way in the business world, only to repeatedly run into trouble in the process. Bud appears in dual roles, playing the managers of the company's branches. My favorite scene was Lou performing some twisted mathematics.
While more serious than most of A&C's movies, it does let Lou engage in his usual clumsiness. The main point is that in this setting, there are plenty of folks eager to use his naivete against him.
I understand that Bud and Lou were starting to have a falling-out when they made this. They made a few more movies together, but by the end, their relationship had soured so much that Bud learned of Lou's death by reading about it in the newspaper (at least that's what I've heard).
Anyway, an interesting movie, if nothing great.
The Naughty Nineties (1945)
what's on first is, well, that scene
No doubt you've seen or heard the skit where Lou gets confused by Bud's naming of the baseball players. What you might not know is that "The Naughty Nineties" has a plot outside of that (involving an attempted takeover of a showboat). The movie DOES contain some cringe-inducing material, but as long as we understand that, we can enjoy Bud and Lou engaging in their silliness.
Henry Travers (the captain) is best known as the guardian angel in "It's a Wonderful Life". Because his character here is named Sam Jackson, I naturally imagined Samuel L. Jackson in the role.
Fear Street: 1666 (2021)
every horror has a beginning
We now go back to the colonial-era settlement to learn the origin of the horrific events plaguing the town. I found "Fear Street: 1666" a satisfying conclusion. I guess that the trilogy's point is that we can never truly know everything about our history.
A Handful of Dust (1988)
a callous world produces no "good" people
I should start by noting that I've never read the book on which "A Handful of Dust" is based. That said, Charles Sturridge's Academy Award-nominated adaptation gives one a feeling of the absolute insensibility of British high society in the 1930s. It was a world in which one could have anything except genuine happiness. The events at the end of the movie are merely the culmination of the preceding grim circumstances.
In addition to Sturridge's direction and the impressive editing, the cast put on fine performances, showing the characters continuing the facade even as things begin to sour. Cast members James Wilby, Kristin Scott Thomas and Stephen Fry later co-starred in Robert Altman's "Gosford Park", a biting satire on the British class system. In addition to them, the cast includes Rupert Graves, Judi Dench, Anjelica Huston, Alec Guinness and Pip Torrens (who later appeared on "The Crown" as the perpetually dour Tommy Lascelles).
Not the ultimate masterpiece, but worth seeing.
don't speak when you're told
The Academy Award-nominated "Resisting Enemy Interrogation" is one of the WWII-era shorts telling troops how to avoid falling victim to the Nazis. In this case, it's about how to refrain from giving away secret information. After all, knowledge is power. It's got a lot of the stuff that we expect from these shorts from the era, although it depicts the Nazis as intelligent - but nonetheless evil - individuals (contrast that with the common portrayal of them as total buffoons).
Anyway, it's interesting to watch as a historical reference. One thing that caught my eye was the cast. The main cast member is Lloyd Nolan, a noted actor. The rest of the cast includes Rand Brooks (who was married to Stan Laurel's daughter for several years), Mel Tormé (later famous as a jazz artist), George O'Hanlon (later known as the voice of George Jetson) and George Dolenz (father of Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees).
In Which We Serve (1942)
Noël Coward takes a new approach
Throughout the 1930s, Noël Coward had a reputation as the author of plays about aloof, high-class sophisticates. So it was probably a shock to see him co-direct "In Which We Serve", about a navy platoon. Their ship sunk by the Nazi air force, the platoon can only cling to a life raft and reminisce on their time before the war.
While I'm sure that the movie's plot pales in comparison to what any enlisted person actually experienced, it's still a harrowing piece of work. Some scenes do in fact feature harsh portrayals of bombings (which neither the US nor Canada ever went through during the war). Basically, Coward went from focusing on those who are very much detached from the common people to showing the contributions of the common people. No surprise that his work here earned him an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards.
Co-directing is David Lean, who up until that point had only been an editor. Over the next three decades, Lean would direct some of the most famous epics in cinema history. Here he certainly showed off his directing talent. Overall, it's definitely an important entry in classic British cinema. I recommend it.
49th Parallel (1941)
With WWII well underway and most Europe under Nazi occupation, it was time for a movie like Michael Powell's "49th Parallel" to get released, warning of what could happen if the Nazi threat didn't get controlled. Despite the advertising of the casting of Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard and Raymond Massey, they only appear for a few minutes each. The stars are some men playing Nazis who escape a sinking submarine and proceed to make their way across Canada.
The movie plays with the audience, prodding you to root for the Nazis to escape, but also for the authorities to capture them. A particularly intense scene is when the Nazis are staying with some Hutterites, and the Nazi leader tries to convince the Hutterites to join the Nazi cause (the Hutterite girl is played by Glynis Johns, best known as Winifred Banks in "Mary Poppins").
All in all, one of the most intense movies out there. It won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and it certainly deserved it. The script, acting, music and cinematography combine to make a movie unlike any that you've ever seen.
Fear Street: 1978 (2021)
no era protects you
Having seen the first segment - portraying a series of murders in 1994 - we now go backwards in time, to a series of similarly grisly events at a summer camp in 1978. As with the first segment, we see the gap between the children from affluent and working-class towns, but neither group is safe from the horror pervading the camp. Sure enough, a lot of stuff gets revealed.
Certainly some creepy stuff. I'm pumped to see the third segment.
The Gathering Storm (2002)
how Winston Churchill regained - and then lost - popularity in the 21st century
If you know anything about history, then you know that Winston Churchill led the United Kingdom through World War II. Aligned with the US under Roosevelt and the USSR under Stalin, he eventually helped win the war, ushering the UK into a new age in 1945 (though the Tories lost the election that year).
What you might not know is that Churchill's political career did not begin with his ascendancy to prime minister. He had held a minor position in parliament in the 1930s, expressing concern about Hitler's rearmament when most British politicians ignored it. Richard Loncraine's HBO movie "The Gathering Storm" looks at Churchill's 1930s career leading up to the beginning of the global war that would reshape the power structure for decades to come. Albert Finney does an excellent job as Churchill, with fine support from Vanessa Redgrave as his wife Clemmie.
What's particularly interesting about this is the realization that Churchill gained a new popularity in the 21st century, getting portrayed in "Inglourious Basterds", "The King's Speech", "The Crown", and "Darkest Hour", among others. Then, amid the protests sparked by George Floyd's murder last year, Churchill fell from grace when his regressive views on race came into focus (this movie does in fact mention his negative view of Gandhi). I guess that if we judged every person back then by their views on race, they'd all look like monsters.
"The Gathering Storm" had a sequel called "Into the Storm" (which I saw a few years ago), starring Brendan Gleeson and Janet McTeer. I recommend both movies.
Also starring Jim Broadbent, Lena Headey, Ronnie Barker, Tom Wilkinson and Tom Hiddleston (in other words, the movie stars Tom Jones, Lillian Hellman's friend Julia, Horace Slughorn, Cersei Lannister, one of the Ronnies, Lyndon Johnson and Loki; I like to reference movies by the cast members' most famous roles).
The War of the Roses (1989)
how a marriage can turn dangerous
A few decades before Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story" focused on a marriage collapsing, Danny DeVito's black comedy "The War of the Roses" did so. In this case, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner play a couple whose once blissful union has soured. Attached as they are to their material wealth, the two resort to increasingly vicious activity.
This movie manages to work at every step, letting the characters go from mirth to anger, seeking every type of revenge on the other. If you doubted that it's a black comedy, the last twenty or so minutes are some of the most intense that I've seen in a movie; it just shows what people can do when they get this obsessed with material things.
Basically, it's the sort of movie that you just gotta see. It's rare that a movie where you can cut the tension with a knife makes you laugh this much.
PS: the original War of the Roses - from which the movie gets its title - inspired much of the plot of "Game of Thrones".
The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
My first wish: for more people to know about this movie.
I first caught "The Thief of Bagdad" on TV when I was ten or eleven (starting when Abu is singing while trying to retrieve the all-seeing eye). At that age I of course drew a connection to Disney's "Aladdin". I've finally seen the whole thing. Obviously it has the problem of not casting Arabs in the roles. As long as we understand that, we can appreciate the innovative techniques used for the movie. The special effects were groundbreaking at the time. In an interview on the movie's Criterion release, Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Muren and Craig Barron cited this movie as an influence.
Anyway, it has to be seen to be believed, crude though the special effects are by today's standards. When Abu was about to release the genie, I said aloud "Make way for Barbara Eden!" (I am undeniably that sort of person)
Good times. You're sure to love it.
La règle du jeu (1939)
an earlier Gosford Park
In 2001, Robert Altman released "Gosford Park", a satire on the British class system. What people in the 21st century might not know is that there was an earlier movie with a similar focus (minus the murder, obviously): "La règle du jeu" ("The Rules of the Game" in English). Jean Renoir's masterpiece looks at the rotten-to-the-core French ruling class of the 1930s. As with Altman's movie, one can see a pronounced difference between the lives of the aristocrats and their servants.
This movie often gets cited as one of the greatest of all time, and it's hard to argue with that. The acting, cinematography, direction and scoring combine to form something that should required viewing. This movie plus "The Grand Illusion" mark Jean Renoir as one of the true grand masters of cinema. Definitely see it.
Fear Street: 1994 (2021)
your social status won't help you
I had never heard of the Fear Street books before watching this movie. What was particularly interesting was that, like "Stranger Things", "Fear Street: 1994" looks at the class differences. It's nothing great, but I did like it, and I'll be eager to see parts 2 and 3.
I guess that we shouldn't have idols
Joe Paterno was one of the most beloved coaches in the history of football, leading the Penn State Nittany Lions to an unprecedented number of wins. That was, until November 2011, when it came out that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping children, and that Paterno was helping cover it up.
Barry Levinson's "Paterno" casts Al Pacino as the embattled coach (the third consecutive time that Levinson gave Pacino the role of a famous bad person, after casting him as Jack Kevorkian and Phil Spector). In addition to showing Paterno's disregard for the children, the movie shows the almost cultlike attitude that the college's students had towards the coach. The ever present dilemma of having a hero.
I recommend the movie. Top-notch acting (in addition to Pacino, there's also Kathy Baker, Riley Keough, and others), as well as directing and editing. To be certain, the movie came out at the perfect time, with the fall from grace of numerous celebrities who got MeToo'd. Definitely see it.
The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)
I bet that a lot of people get forced to do this sort of thing
"The Man Who Sold His Skin" depicts a refugee forced into an unpleasant predicament. In showing the plight of refugees, Kaouther Ben Hani's Academy Award-nominated movie also looks at the cold attitudes of supposedly highbrow individuals. The sad thing is that there are probably people in real life who have gotten subjected to this sort of thing. I recommend it.
The Jazz Singer (1927)
the film heard 'round the world
"The Jazz Singer" is now mostly famous for being the first feature film to contain recorded, lip-synchronous speech. To my knowledge, it was also the first feature film to have a Jewish person as the main character (I wonder if a lot of people in middle of the US were befuddled at this, as many of them had probably never met any Jewish people). But the most important thing is that it shows the inevitable conflict between one's culture and the desire to make something of oneself in the 20th century US.
And now, the elephant in the room: the blackface scene. As I learned from "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee", much of the humor in the first half of the 20th century was based on minstrel shows, including a lot of the stuff in old cartoons (white gloves, violence resulting in no harm, etc). So, Al Jolson's performance in black makeup was a typical day in entertainment back then (which still doesn't justify it, obviously; there was an argument that doing this enabled him to get accepted by white society).
But anyway, it's the sort of movie that everyone should see at least once. A particularly effective scene was Jakie's mom's shock to learn that Jakie had hooked up with a non-Jewish woman, or later when Moishe walked into Jakie's dressing room and was shocked at the sight of scantily clad women. Talk about culture shock! See the movie if you get a chance.
PS: Samson Raphaelson's nephew is Bob Rafelson, who created the Monkees and later directed Jack Nicholson in "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice".
So This Is Paris (1926)
the City of Lights won't be what you think
Ernst Lubitsch's "So This Is Paris" depicts some surprising events taking place in the French capital. Some wacky stuff is in store here. It's not any sort of masterpiece; sort of an early rom-com. However, it does incorporate the Lubitsch touch: libidinous things get implied but not shown.
Anyway, this is an enjoyable movie, if not the best one ever made.
The Freshman (1925)
Harold goes to college
In "The Freshman" - not to be confused with the 1990 movie starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick - Harold Lloyd plays a guy who goes to college, only to end up the laughingstock of the campus. The funniest scenes are the football practice and the dance. Although much of the latter sequence reminded me of the party in "The Shining", here we have the protagonist suffering a series of mishaps!
Basically, this movie's purpose is to be funny, and it succeeds every step of the way. I have no doubt that they had a lot of fun filming it. College is bound to make a great setting for comedy (aside from this one, there's Buster Keaton's 1927 movie "College", as well as "Animal House", "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Road Trip"). Definitely see it.
A 1920s party gets depicted, starring a man with the last name Lloyd, while "The Shining" depicted a similar event at which the bartender was named Lloyd. Imagine that.
The Red Lily (1924)
the colors of France's underside
"The Red Lily" is probably not a movie that you'll immediately recognize, but it's one that you should see. Focusing on a pair of lovers separated by forces beyond their control, Fred Niblo's movie uses tints to tell the story. When Jean (Ramon Novarro) and Marise (Enid Bennett) are together, it's red, evoking romance. But shift to another scene, and it's gray, evoking despair. The shifts continue throughout the movie.
This movie has made me want to watch more of Niblo's movies. If this is any indication, he had a masterful directing style. Here he uses it to show the plight of France's underclass. Definitely see the movie.
Why Worry? (1923)
Harold Lloyd predicts a few things
The goal of Fred Newmeyer's "Why Worry?" is to be funny, and it is. Numerous scenes of Harold Lloyd doing his usual wacky stuff.
However, the movie looks more serious nowadays. The plot somewhat mirrors Woody Allen's "Bananas" (a US tourist going to a Latin American country amid political turmoil), and the part about the renegade soldier plotting a coup mirrors the story of William Walker (who tried to turn Nicaragua into his personal fiefdom in the 1850s). On top of that, Lloyd's character is overmedicated, predicting the opioid epidemic that's currently devastating entire regions of the US (notice how, when it affects white people, it gets called an "epidemic" and people talk about it like they need treatment, while the crack epidemic that devastated black communities in the '80s got black folks labeled "addicts" and society treated them like criminals).
Oh well, that's all tangential. It's an enjoyable movie.
The Awful Truth (1999)
Keep doing it, Mike!
Continuing what he had done with "TV Nation", Michael Moore uses humor to expose everything that's wrong with our society in "The Awful Truth". Among other things, he pranks Fred Phelps, teaches India and Pakistan how to have a Cold War, and shames countless corporations. Great stuff. He's one of the best.
Mountains of the Moon (1990)
the Monkees' creator directs Ser Jorah Mormont, Aunt Petunia, Master Aemon, King Théoden and Dr. Zhivago
Bob Rafelson got his start in entertainment by creating the Monkees as a knockoff of the Beatles. He then turned to cinema, directing Jack Nicholson in several movies (most notably "Five Easy Pieces"). With all this under his belt, it will probably come as a surprise to people that Rafelson also directed the 1990 epic "Mountains of the Moon", about Richard Burton's and John Speke's expedition to find the source of the Nile. Certainly an impressive story.
Undeniably, they put their all into the movie. I just get the feeling that the lax depiction of colonialism might look questionable nowadays. Otherwise, I recommend the movie.
In addition to Patrick Bergin, the cast includes Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont on "Game of Thrones"), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies), Peter Vaughan (Master Aemon on "Game of Thrones"), Bernard Hill (King Théoden in the Lord of the Rings movies) and Omar Sharif (the title role in "Dr. Zhivago"). Also appearing are Richard E. Grant, Delroy Lindo and Roshan Seth.
To think that there was an explorer named Richard Burton, and then a man named Richard Jenkins adopted the name Richard Burton to become an actor (interestingly enough, there was a later actor named Richard Jenkins).
Transylvania Twist (1989)
Yes, completely silly, but how can you not feel tempted to sink your teeth into it?
"Chopping Mall" director Jim Wynorski ventures into Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielsen territory with the over-the-top "Transylvania Twist", which mainly spoofs Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, but also the 1930s monster flicks and some slashers. As with Brooks's movies, there's plenty of babes showing off their cleavage, and the characters break the fourth wall. There's even a scene from Roger Corman's 1963 movie "The Terror" (starring a young Jack Nicholson and Nicholson's then-wife Sandra Knight).
Basically, if you accept something completely ridiculous, you'll have no trouble enjoying this movie. A similar movie released in 1989 was "Beverly Hills Vamp", starring Britt Ekland and Eddie Deezen.
PS: Jay Robinson (Ephram) later co-starred in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 adaptation of Dracula...which Mel Brooks spoofed as "Dracula: Dead and Loving It", featuring Leslie Nielsen as a hapless version of the count.
Jean Smart gets her day
Jean Smart first entered my consciousness when she co-starred on HBO's "Watchmen", although it turned out that I had seen her in movies for years. With her back-to-back roles on HBO's "Mare of Easttown" and "Hacks", Smart has truly secured her place in TV history. Her lead role in the latter is funny without being insulting, dramatic without being boring, and all-around lovable. Both a look at standup comedy and the differences between generations, this show does everything perfectly. I hope that Jean Smart finally earns the renown that she's long deserved.
Playing the writer is Hannah Einbinder (Laraine Newman's daughter).
I Remember Mama (1948)
George Stevens looks to the past
George Stevens had been making productions for the war effort for a few years when it came time to start making regular movies again. Having previously made movies set in the present, Stevens decided to take a little trip to the past, and the result was "I Remember Mama". Like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", it focuses on a family's efforts to push forward and survive despite a threadbare existence. In this case, it's a Norwegian immigrant family in 1910 San Francisco. Irene Dunne (in an Academy Award-nominated role) plays the matriarch of the title. This matriarch understands full well that her family has limited economic means, but always makes sure that they have enough to eat.
I haven't seen that many movies from 1948, but this had to be one of the best. The acting, direction, cinematography, score, and narration all combined to form a masterpiece. I'd now like to read the novel on which it's based. Definitely see it.