January 22: Lady for a Day
I’m quite a fan of the Bette Davis remake of this picture, titled Pocketful of Miracles. I didn’t know if the original would be worse or better, but it’s neither. It’s equally as good as its successor. The film is about a beggar woman named Apple Annie, who sells apples on the street to try and make money to live. Dave the Dude is a gambler who thinks that he has better luck with his deals if he buys from Annie. Many years ago, Annie had an illegitimate daughter and gave her to a convent instead of forcing to live her life in poverty the way she was forced to. Somehow, it’s never explained, Louise, the daughter, winds up in Spain engaged to the son of a count. This is all fine and good, but Annie has been stealing stationary from a fancy hotel and writing to her daughter about the glamourous life she wanted her to believe she led. Annie learns that her daughter is coming to New York to meet her and so that the count can approve of her marriage. Annie is all flustered–she is a hideous hobo! Dave the Dude begrudgingly agrees to help Annie because he thinks it will be great karma. So he fancies her up and installs her in a nice apartment to convince her daughter and aristocratic future in-laws that she is what she said she was. There’s a lot more to it, but I want you to see it because it’s a terribly sweet picture that heartwarmingly shows the goodness of people. Highly recommended. [My Rating: 9.5/10]
January 23: The Artist
I have been borderline obsessed with this picture for months–the stills and trailers called to me, luring me back to the heyday of Hollywood’s silent era. It looked like it would drip with elegance and it did. It was a gorgeous film, lovingly shot, perfectly cast, and engaging…but it seemed to lack a meaningful story. I understand that this is a more complex thing to ask for with a silent picture, but it’s still possible: Joan Crawford’s The Unknown for example. The Artist is about a silent film star named George Valentin (I’ve heard ignorants say, “HE’S JUST LIKE RUDOLPH VALENTINO!” To those people, I mentally flip off.), charmingly played by Jean Dujardin who suffers terribly when talking pictures push him into obscurity. A young woman, Peppy Miller, who he stumbled upon one day sending her on a Crawfordian (I think I might be the first person to ever say that, and I couldn’t be more delighted!) avalanche of fame that outshines him. As his star wanes, hers waxes. For years, he and his charming dog wallow in depression before Peppy saves him by reinventing him as a kind of Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire entertainer. It’s not a bad story at all, but it was just unsatisfactory. I think that because I watch these kind of films all the time–In my mind, I live in that era–seeing this was not the Oscar-worthy cinematic experience that people are breathlessly gushing over. I just saw a charming gimmick. I hate to say it, it literally pains me because there are few people other than myself who want films like this being made and rediscovered. I would love to operate a gorgeous theater where I played all the great old movies…but I’m getting off track. The silence felt forced, it was almost counteractive to the story, which I suppose devalues the film’s premise if it hadn’t been silent, but that’s how it felt. It could have been an amazing film, I’m positive, if dialogue had been included. It would not have been a detriment to the plot, but an enhancement–real life does not take place in silence after all. So, the two moments when sound was used were harsh and surprisingly uncomfortable and utterly destroyed the atmosphere for me. It might not have annoyed me so tremendously had these moments not occurred. If you want a film that beautifully illustrates the trauma and tragedy of the arrival of the talkies, watch Sunset Boulevard, if you haven’t already. Norma Desmond perfectly portrays the anguish of rejection, whereas George Valentin wallows in a stupor never trying to help himself. It IS a good film, don’t get me wrong, and I hope you see it, but it did not meet my expectations and because of that I was very disappointed. [My Rating 7.5/10]
January 24: House of Dark Shadows
I have been intrigued with Dark Shadows for ages and ages and ages. A couple of years back I downloaded the first few episodes, but the quality was horrendous and the audio was inaudible, so I gave it up. I wanted to start from the very beginning, but haven’t found time to watch the DVD releases, yet. I will, mind you, but who knows when? I barely have time to shower. I seem to always find a way to not be productive…right now for instance, I spent an hour looking for Art Deco lighting fixtures in that ellipses. Anyway, since there is a new Dark Shadows revival coming out soon with Johnny Depp and my beloved Helena Bonham Carter (she’s one of my favorites of the modern actresses, I think. I think she could be a marvelous Margo! Good God, my mind is reeling with potential!) I decided to become acquainted with the series. Look at Johnny as Barnabas!
Anyway, I saw this on TCM and was completely unaware of its existence and simply had to tape it. It might not have been the greatest introduction to the series, and it might not have been the greatest film, but it did give me a sense of what the mood was. The picture was about the return of Barnabas Collins from his long imprisonment in the family mausoleum. He gets out and wreaks havoc all because he is in love with a relative who looks like his lover that died mysteriously two centuries ago. Because she looks so similar, he is madly in love and wants to be a man and not a monster, so the psychiatrist/doctor, Julia, takes samples of the blood of his victims and makes some kind of vampiric antidote. This works for a spell and then it works too well and he rapidly ages (becoming even uglier than he already was–Robert Osborne said he was a heartthrob…I have my doubts. SEVERE doubts) then he gets pissed and kills the doctor. Then, everybody gets pissed at Barnabas and they kill him at his lonely wedding. It was rather convoluted, but I could see how the series managed to obtain such a cult following. [My Rating 5/10]
January 25: Gaslight
There was a reason I put this movie on the Netflix queue, but only the Lord knows why now. That list is miles long. I just recently reorganized it–LADY IN A CAGE IS COMING! It’s finally coming! SQUEAL! Anyway, I don’t know why I wanted to watch this, none of the actors or actors were ones I care about, the director wasn’t special and I don’t think the story came from anything I’m aware of. Nonetheless, I’m glad I watched it. This picture is about a married couple who move to a gorgeous townhouse in London after the wife has a panic attack…or did she? Her husband seems to be going out of his way to convince her that she is crazy. It’s really rather rude. He’s a slimy loser who is having an affair with the maid. In the meantime, a private detective believes that the husband is really a murderer who killed a woman in the very same house! Shocking! Anyway, it’s true! In the end, it is revealed that he moved back into the house with his wife so that he could search for missing rubies worth £20,000 and then be happy with all the money. Unfortunately for him, he is thwarted. The ending is FABULOUS. The wife goes sarcastic crazy. It’s great. I enjoyed this film a lot even though the middle did drag a bit. It was well shot, concise, and kept you guessing. The link above will show you the entire picture, enjoy it. [My Rating: 7/10]
January 26: From Prada to Nada
I’m basically Mexican and as an honorary Latino, I was a bit irritated by the portrayal of my adopted culture. (I’m still more French than Mexican, but more Mexican than Czech, which is what I actually am. I’m a big believer in choosing who you are, birth means nothing.) This movie was about two pampered sisters who grew up in Beverly Hills that suddenly have to move to East Los Angeles after their father dies and they lose everything. It wasn’t very clear why they had to go so quickly, but they were booted out by some woman named Olivia who was dating their suddenly discovered half-brother who wanted their home for no apparent reason. Don’t worry if you’re confused, I never really understood. So, once they made it to their family’s home (the familial connection was never satisfactorily explained, they just showed up and were accepted) they had to deal with life. The older sister, who was much better adjusted decided to stop going to school and go work in a law firm because she wants to waste her life being a lawyer who helps the needy. Who gets money that way? Anyway, she finds work unexpectedly at Olivia’s brother Edward’s law firm. (Edward looks about 23, by the way, there’s no way he operates a law firm.) They romance a bit, but then for some reason, she loses her shit and he promotes her? I still wasn’t getting it. Never did, actually. The other sister, played by Alexa Vega (what has happened with you, Alexa? You showed such promise in Spy Kids and Repo! The Genetic Opera), is a whiny bitch who can’t believe she has to leave Beverly Hills. I really empathized with her, imagine leaving all that opulence behind…it’s enough to make me cry in the corner. She falls madly in love with her college professor’s assistant who turns out to be married which results in the most deliciously campy crying scene in history which results in a car crash that was so cheesy I can’t believe she didn’t see it coming. Then there’s a happy ending because the character Wilmer Valderrama was poorly playing took a dried up Bird of Paradise flower in a scene that made less sense than the rest of the movie. In the end, I had no idea what the actual story was because all it seemed to be was layer after layer of cheesy dialogue and poorly written melodramas. I kid you not when I say that telenovelas have better executed plots. Ay dios mio! [My Rating: 2/10]
January 27: The Descendents
Two Academy Award Best Picture contenders in one week–what a cultured life I lead. I have no idea why I first wanted to see this movie, when I think back, I think it is because I wanted to see what Hawaii looked like, because it’s on my list of places to potentially settle. I can’t stand the cold here, even though there is no cold to speak of this Winter. I think my fervent prayers to Miss Jesus have finally been answered and we have moved up a couple of growing zones. Seems to be the case, anyway, I haven’t worn my fantastic new peacoat for months. It’s been sweater weather. I’ve even gone out in a t-shirt…in January! Back to the film. Even though I don’t remember why I wanted to see this, I’m glad that I did. It was a gorgeously shot and executed film. The acting was impeccable, not a weak player in the group, the styling was flawless, and the entire picture felt effortless. It was as if it had been lifted out of real life and not written by a stressed screenwriter smoking too many cigarettes and living off of whisky in some horrible downtown LA hotel. I’m not sure if that’s how it’s done anymore, but that’s how I assume it works. The film is about Matt King, excellently played by George Clooney, who’s wife is in a coma and is going to die. He learns that she was having an affair and so tries to figure out who the fellow was, what she saw in him, and if he could make his family a working unit again. In the meantime, he had to deal with all of his cousins wanting him to agree to sell their familial land on one of the islands that is worth up to half a billion dollars. Matt’s rather stressed, as you can probably imagine. The story doesn’t really follow any story, but it was intriguing and never left you bored. I probably laughed more than was appropriate, it’s written as a tear-jerker, I believe, but the guy who played Sid and the younger daughter really stole the show with stupidity and comic timing. I’ve done a really horrible job of retelling this plot, but it’s tricky to put into words. The IMDB blurb works pretty well, even though it’s as stale as 30-year-old bread: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident. I recommend seeing this film as I think Clooney has a real chance of winning the Oscar if Jean Dujardin doesn’t cause too tremendous an upset with his fancy mustache and silent gesturing. (Also, I was incredibly distracted by how much George Clooney is starting to look like Cary Grant–I mean they’re almost identical. At times, when you look at him, it’s like an old picture of Cary. They have the exact same face. It’s uncanny!) My Rating: (8/10)
January 28: The Spiral Staircase
This was originally supposed to be a Joan Crawford vehicle, and had Mayer not thrown a fit, it very well could have been one of her greatest performances. It would have been magnificent with her gorgeous face silently gesticulating, perfectly capturing terror in her magnificent, orb-like eyes. But it wasn’t, so I won’t go on about tragedies that took place almost 70 years ago. This picture is about a mute maid who is in danger of a serial killer that preys on the handicapped. He murders people that aren’t perfect–like he’s trying to purify the stock or something by getting rid of any deformities. The town constable traced the murderer back to the stunningly gorgeous Victorian mansion that Helen (the mute maid) works in and so she’s in terrible danger, but doesn’t seem to care. The old matriarch of the manor, beautifully acted by Ethel Barrymore tells her time and time and time and time again that she must go, but she doesn’t seem to get the picture. The movie keeps moving along, but you never seem to understand where. There’s a side story involving one of the brothers who lives in the manor who is in love with the other brother’s secretary, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It seems her part was written just so that she could get murdered and get to the end. When we do reach the end, the murderer is not who you expected it to be, even though you probably thought it could be. There is nothing that I love more (in pictures and novels) than a deranged serial killer on a mission. When he tells why he is doing it, it is just delicious. The movie wasn’t bad, but it certainly is not the masterpiece others claim it to be. Maybe I’m just cynical, though, I don’t know. [My Rating: 6/10]
Film of the Week: Lady for a Day This picture was just wonderful, so charming, so amusing, so heart warming. I recommend it to you heartily. It’s sure to make you smile and cheer you up even if you’re already on top of the world. It’s being remastered and released in March, pick up a copy so that you can enjoy it time and time again.