Sunday, March 11, 2007

Short Rants

Well, I’m back from my refreshing Spring Break and am ready to get started on some new things for my blog. For now, here are some short rants about a few older movies I caught on break. Enjoy!


Yentl (1983, dir. Barbra Streisand) Who said that the musical as a film genre died with Fosse’s Cabaret? Babs’ directorial debut is certainly something to behold and is truly one of the milestones in film musicals. Her uncompromising attitude all while bringing this project to this screen shows in every frame that is lovingly put together. Babs does a fantastic job in the lead as the Jewish girl Yentl who, after her father’s death, poses as a boy and goes off to study at a Hebrew school in which girls are forbidden. Yentl wisely avoids most of the comedic situations that could be exploited from now until kingdom come with only the wedding night scene coming to mind presently. While not a feel-good, escapist musical, Yentl has fantastic music and is further proof that Barbra is a much needed voice in American filmmaking. *****

The More the Merrier (1943, dir. George Stevens) This was the biggest disappointment of the movies I watched during Break. Set during World War II Washington, D.C. where a housing shortage cripples the city, Jean Arthur rents half of her apartment to Charles Coburn- who in turn rents half of his room to a swoon-worthy Joel McCrea. The first half of the film contains some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in a long time (Arthur describing the morning routine with Coburn, McCrea’s entrance) and looked to be Arthur’s paramount performance, but it comes to a screeching halt somewhere around the middle and becomes a terrible wartime melodrama. It got so bad I wanted to bitch slap Jean Arthur (whom I love dearly) for crying the last ten minutes straight. Jean Arthur received her only Oscar nomination for this film and Charles Coburn won his only Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and I can’t see why because they have both done better work. *** ½

Silkwood (1983, dir. Mike Nichols) Basically, it’s Norma Rae meets The China Syndrome with the ever-fabulous Meryl Streep transforming into Karen Silkwood, an uneducated nuclear plant worker who blows the whistle on the plant’s harmful practices with plutonium. Definitely watchable with fantastic performances from Streep and Cher as her lesbian roommate, but overly familiar *** ½

Witness For the Prosecution (1957, dir. Billy Wilder) This has got to be one of the finest courtroom dramas I have ever seen (up there with Inherit the Wind). Charles Laughton plays an English barrister recovering from a heart attack who takes on the case of Leonard Vole (a surprisingly solid Tyrone Power) who is accused of murdering his older lady friend for her money. His wife Christine (a fabulous Marlene Dietrich in one of her best later roles) proves to be the key witness in the case and could send him to the gallows. What I love most about Witness is that just when you think everything has been wrapped up nicely in a neat package, it is all shot to hell and one surprise comes after another. I also enjoyed the hilarious banter between off-screen couple Laughton and Elsa Lanchester (aka the Bride of Frankenstein) as his meddling nurse trying to get him to rest. **** ½

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, dir. John Cameron Mitchell) After recently viewing Mitchell’s Shortbus, I quickly went and watched Hedwig. Although not as great or transfixing as Shortbus, Hedwig certainly has many things to admire. John Cameron Mitchell’s lead performance as the East German transsexual is one of the best pieces of acting I have encountered in quite awhile. He is totally transfixing and makes the film that much better. The music was also quite amazing and fit in interestingly with what was going on in the story. The only drawback was the ending which I felt was a little too ambiguous and alienating. ****

Murder On the Orient Express (1974, dir. Sidney Lumet) I had to see this movie based solely on its A-list cast: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Wendy Hiller and Rachel Roberts- how could you not want to see this? Unfortunately, the film is not the Altman-esque ensemble piece that I expected. Most of the actors and actresses are wasted in the tiny ass roles they are given and the only standout is Anthony Perkins’ twitchy, Norman Bates-lite performance as the dead man’s secretary. The whole thing is a contrived piece of crap that is only worth watching for the cameos (however little they satisfy). And how the hell did the fabulous Ingrid Bergman win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her insipid and just plain annoying Bible-spouting nanny who helps all the “black babies” in Africa? **

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