Movie Resolution: Week 5

January 29: Zoo in Budapest

Charming, charming, charming. There is no other way to describe this picture. It was Diana Vreeland’s favorite movie, and seeing that we are almost identical in our tastes I knew it would be wonderful. And I was right, I adored every moment of it. From the opening scene as we wander throughout the Budapest zoo and gaze at the animals, I fell under its spell. The lions and the monkeys and the beautiful elephants–I just love animals so much. The story takes a bit to begin, but I didn’t mind one bit as I was so wrapped up by how gorgeous everything was. Zani, is a young man who was born and raised in the zoo, he is a friend to all the animals and they love him terribly. When he sees women wearing furs he steals them and destroys them because he says, “It isn’t right for people to kill animals and wear them.” My vegetarian heart melted. It’s so true. Back to the story, now. Every Friday the girls from the local orphanage come to the zoo to see the animals locked away so that they feel they are better off, locked away in their own way. Eve just turned eighteen and was going to be turned over to the tannery on loan. She didn’t want her life to end up that way, so she and the rest of the girls plotted an escape for her. They cause a diversion and she steals away into the woods inside the zoo and waits for Zani. They have a quaint, utterly medieval notion of love–they don’t even know each other, but they want to marry. Zani finds her finally and the rest of the movie shows them talking about the future and hiding away. The police are looking for her because the orphanage will lose quite a bit of money if they don’t send her to the tannery. One of the zookeepers detests Zani, so he is delighted to charge him with theft and possibly kidnapping. While they are hiding away, they come across a young boy who also hid away from his guardians during the day. When the guards finally catch up with him, the boy runs to the big cat house and pulls the wrong lever and then all hell breaks loose. Lions, tigers, elephants, hedgehogs, and more all began to fight. It’s horrible, I literally covered my eyes and looked away, it was awful watching the lions attack each other and the tigers claw the elephants. This picture was made in the 30s, it’s not as if this were CGI, this was happening. I’m nervous thinking about it. Zani manages to save the boy and the animals, and because the boy’s father is so appreciative he installs Zani and Eve in a cottage at his home after they are wed. A happy ending and an utterly delightful picture. [My Rating: 9/10]

January 30: The Seven Hills of Rome

I really can’t stand Mario Lanza, there’s just something about him that I find deeply unlikable and I wouldn’t have taped this movie if I had known he were in it. I understand that he had a tragic life, and I sympathize, but good God, the man COULD NOT act. He was so phony. I never believed a word that he said and when he opened his mouth to sing, I felt like he was yelling. The tone was good, but he was so loud. It was uncomfortable. Now that I’ve finished my Lanza rant, I can carry on. The picture was one of those travelogues they don’t seem to make anymore–a love letter to the people of Rome. It was beautiful, but unessential. The movie itself wasn’t terrible, it could have been much better, mind you, but it was not dreadful. It’s about Lanza’s character, Marc, a famous singer who goes off to Europe to find his bitch of a fiancée, Carol, who has left him because of I don’t know why. So, logically, he goes to Rome to his cousin’s house. I don’t know how he expects to find Carol in a working-class district of post-war Rome, but he does. Along the way, he meets a poor girl, Rafaella, who has eyes deader than a corpse who seems to be torn between loving him and hating him, but her acting is so poor that we only know that when somebody says it. So the two of them go to his cousin Pepe’s apartment and are poor? It didn’t make sense. Pepe’s apartment was bitching. Marc was a celebrity. Where was the cash? Anyway, Marc decides to go to a few night clubs and sing a bit and make some money, but nobody has ever heard of him and he has to start from the very bottom. Pepe is his pianist and it takes about two days for him to be the toast of Rome. Then his fiancé shows up and toys with him a bit and makes him punch a guy and destroy a bar. Then, Pepe, tells Rafaella that he is passionately in love with her and you just know that he’ll treat her beautifully with the greatest dignity, but that bitch is in love with Marc for reasons I cannot fathom. What a pompous git he is. In the end, Pepe tells Marc that Rafaella is in love with him and that they should be together. And as the credits role, Marc and Rafaella walk into the Roman evening. I was screaming at my television about how stupid she was being. Couldn’t she see that Pepe adored her? Didn’t she understand that she would be happy with him? Whatever, I hope Pepe lived happily ever after and the other two drowned in the Tiber. [My Rating: 4/10]

January 31: The Vampire Bat

This movie was only an hour long, but it was very good with excellent acting and quality writing. The plot was a bit effervescent, but a story was told and it wasn’t a direct ripoff of every other vampire flick ever made. This one is set in present day (1930) Germany in the village of Klineschloss. There has been an outbreak of what everybody assumes to be vampirism. Victims are discovered dead, drained of blood, with two holes in their neck. Karl thinks that the claims of vampirism are nonsensical and so he searches for a more scientific answer with Dr. Otto, who seems on the fence. After a number of deathly attacks, the villages form a crazy mob and go after the village idiot, Gleib. He is pushed off a cliff in a cave and dies, but even though he is dead, they still cut off his head and stake his heart. Unfortunately, the attacks keep occurring and he was killed for no reason. Finally, we discover that the doctor has been draining the innocents of their blood to feed an organ that he created. He was obsessed with finding the secret of life and eternal life. He thought that he was on to something, and he might have been, but it was at the expense of dozens of victims. He and his assistant are killed and then it’s all over. Melvyn Douglas, an excellent actor (he starred in one of my favorites, Too Many Husbands, and a number of Joan Crawford pictures) was perfection in this little picture. I really enjoyed it and I recommend you watch it. [My Rating: 8/10]

MOVIE OF THE MONTH: 

After much deliberation, January’s best picture is: Cadillac Records. Of all the movies I watched this month, this one has stayed with me the most. I think of it often, even more with the sad, recent passing of Etta James. Rent this one today. You will not regret it, I guarantee it. 

February 1: The Lion

If you haven’t learned, yet, I love animals. This film’s main story was about the relationship between King, a lion, and a young girl named Tina. Tina’s mother is worried that she is losing connection with civilization, that she is becoming savage, that she’ll never be a normal woman. So, she writes a letter to her estranged father who lives in Connecticut so that he can take her away and try to restore her to a kind of normalcy. William Holden plays the father and he does an excellent job in this picture. Although the film was not exceptional or even very engaging, it was beautifully shot, another travelogue sort of picture. King, is truly a remarkable lion and it is amazing to watch him play with Tina the way I do with my cat Tiger. I have always wanted to own a big cat and I know that it’s cruel, but it’s a dream of mine. If ever I have the chance, I will adopt one…haters gonna hate. The ending is deeply tragic and I’m not going to write about it because I sniffled a little. If you love animals, I suggest watching it, just to see them in their natural habitat, but if you’re looking for a good story, don’t bother. One other thing, the soundtrack is just beautiful! One of the most memorable pieces of music I have ever heard in a movie…other than Sunset Boulevard, that is perfection. [My Rating: 5/10]

February 2: Tootsie

There are few things on Earth that this boy loves more than drag queens. Literally, that culture might be my favorite thing ever. I’ve never done a drag performance, but that is simply because the opportunity has never come up. When it does, watch out, I will be tucked, trimmed, coiffed, manicured, and my face will have been beaten. I will lip-sync Beyoncé so ferociously that she’ll cower in a corner with Blue Ivy, not even Jay-Z will want to mess with me. Anyway, I absolutely live for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Watch it. So, this movie is not about drag queens, but it does involve a man dressing like a woman, so there’s the connection and I love it. Plus, it costars Jessica Lange, whom I adore and is another contender for the role of Margo Helena di Rossi in the cinematic adaptation of my novel, Terrible Miss Margo. Tootsie is about an unemployed actor who wants to raise money to put on a play written by his friend. He decides to go to an audition as a woman, and he gets the role. Dorothy, as he is now known is a revelation for the soap opera he is on and is a great success making every magazine cover. Unfortunately for the man beneath the pound of mascara this complicates the romance he would like to have with Julie, who is another character on the show. It’s all sweet, not at all crude the way this kind of thing would have been filmed today. Dorothy and Julie form a true friendship and it’s just devastating when we think about what will happen when Dorothy is revealed to be Michael. Along the way, Julie’s father falls madly in love with Dorothy and proposes to her–Dorothy says that she’ll think about it. This film is from 1982 and seems quite friendly towards the LGBT community, but there are some jokes and moments that make me uncomfortable as a modern viewer. Now, I would never ever tell you what to feel or what to believe, but when Michael was degraded for playing a woman, I was disgusted and hope you were, too. His friend jokes about it and Julie is uncomfortable after she thinks that Dorothy is a lesbian (though, honestly, there is some processing needed.) I understand that it can be an uncomfortable topic for some people, but I don’t understand discomfort about people being themselves. If you can’t be yourself, you can’t be anybody. End of my rant. The scene where Dorothy reveals that she is truly Michael is so beautiful–I had something in my eye during that scene, so I cried a bit. It was a marvelous picture that I heartily recommend. [My Rating: 10/10]

February 3: Midnight in Paris

This film has had a profound impact on me–it may have altered my entire life. I am reevaluating something that I about heavily invested in and wondering if it wouldn’t make more sense to just give it up and become a Parisian. I am one, you know? Not by birth or by heritage, but by choice. I am never so at home as I am in Paris. That is a marvelous city full of such beauty and hope and majesty. I am happy when I’m in Paris. For me, nothing is better than strolling down one of the broad avenues or the tiny streets and peering in the shops, in nibbling on a baguette, looking for Karl, or browsing the vendors along the river. I’m getting teary thinking about it. I don’t know why I’m not there now. I will be someday. If my book ever gets published and I make a bit of money from it, I’m getting an apartment there. It’s too wonderful to be apart from. It’s kind of like living in Hell when you know Heaven is just a plane ride away. I haven’t even spoken about the film, yet. I loved it. I loved every frame. I was hooked from the very first shot of Paris. It looks just like the pictures I have taken of the city–warm, the film is rich with yellows and browns and it is absolutely gorgeous. The funny thing is, Paris looks like that. It glows all by itself. Anyway, this picture is about a screenwriter named Gil who goes to Paris with his fiancé and future in-laws. They’re horrid people. They don’t appreciate Paris or France or the culture. They complain about the rich food and the language and go to see American movies. They were funny, though, because they were caricatures of a lot of English speaking tourists. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on the Métro or in a restaurant and listened to some rich bitch whine. It’s silly. Anyway, Gil loves Paris. He is enraptured with the idea of 1920s Paris, he thinks it is the golden age and he would have loved to live there. He starts walking around in the evenings and by some twist of fate an old car comes along, he climbs in, and is transported back in time to his ideal époque. He is taken to a bar where he meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Understandably, his mind is blown. It makes no sense, he’s a modern man, but there they are. When he leaves the bar, he is back to his current time and scratching his head on how to get back. Now, I take issue here. I have walked about Paris many times. I have walked at midnight. Nothing magical happened: a man complimented my ass, I bought an ice cream, I watched the filming of a movie, I power walked to Lady Gaga. There was no car to take me to my ideal époque. If it had, I would have been picked up and taken to a haunt frequented by Édith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Cocteau in the 1940s. It would have been marvelous. Marguerite Monnot would be there, too. She’d play something on the piano and Édith and I would come up with lyrics. Cocteau would sketch us, Marlene would complain about her back pain and smoke, and we’d all drink far too much wine before the audience would yell for Édith to sing and she would. The house would collapse in applause and we’d all head back to our apartments. Mine would be in the Marais or near the Jardin des Plantes. But, back to the movie! Gil keeps going back and back to this time and falls in love with the people. Gertrude Stein is reading his novel, he talks to Dalí in bars, he met Picasso, he meets everybody who was anybody. He falls in love with a character played perfectly by Mario Cotillard (that woman is a divine actress). They love each other, but they both realize that they are in love with time periods more than they are with each other. She with Belle Époque Paris of the 1890s and he realizes that he is in love with nothing more than the idea of a golden age. This idea resonated deeply with me. My golden age would have been 1930s Hollywood. I would have been Somebody. Gil realizes, though, that he must live in his real life and just become accustomed to it. If he stayed in the 1890s or the 1920s he would start to fall in love with another time and wouldn’t ever be happy the way he thought. It was such a beautiful moment because it’s absolutely true. Gil decides to live in Paris and the credits role with a new love blossoming. I was so taken by this picture, it was such a love letter to my beloved city. Every single moment was beautiful, every actor was perfectly cast, no line of dialogue was out of place or unnecessary. It was simply perfection and if there is any justice in this world, it will win an Academy Award. Highly recommended. [My Rating: 10/10]

February 4: The Woman in Black

I was absolutely delighted when I heard that Hammer Films (illustrious British cinematic institution and creator of such classics as The Satanic Rites of Dracula) was going back into the business of churning out horror films. My delight and curiosity were piqued even further when I read that that tiny little man, Daniel Radcliffe, would be playing the lead in their newest release, The Woman in Black. Would he ever be able to throw off the artistic shackles that came from him playing the Boy Who Lived for years and years and years? After viewing the film, he succeeded, but we as an audience have failed. Daniel portrayed a new character convincingly enough, but the Harry Potter jokes are inevitable. When a train comes on the screen, we squeal, “HOGWARTS EXPRESS!” We shout, “You should never have come to Hogsmeade, Mr. Potter!” when the villagers blame him for the death of a child. It goes on and on, but I think that his fate is sealed to remain Harry Potter for the rest of his days. This picture revolves around a lawyer, played by Daniel, who has to go to some creepy manor in the middle of a swamp to sort through the papers of the woman who owned the manor and just died. He somehow (simply by his presence, I suppose) finds himself in the middle of the legend of the woman in black. Each time somebody sees this apparition, a child dies. That completely summarizes the plot. Daniel has about four minutes worth of lines and spends the rest of the picture lazily sauntering from chamber to chamber not reacting to terrifying things. He might raise an eyebrow if he deems it particularly frightening. The atmosphere was delicious, meticulous and eery. Daniel did a fine job. But, sadly, the script let both the cast and the location down. It has such promise, but fails to deliver. If it had been tightened up, given a rush, some kind of necessity, some vitality, it would have been marvelous. But, in the end, the whole thing fell as flat as Daniel and his son were at the end. You’ll have to see the picture to get that. [My Rating: 6/10]

Film of the Week: Midnight in ParisTootsie was a close second but the magic of Midnight in Paris totally won out. See it now. It is beautiful, it is perfect, I loved it so much. They go to Deyrolle. I live for Deyrolle! (That’s a chic taxidermy shop in Paris, if you didn’t know.) Every frame is gorgeous, every line is well written. Perfect, perfect, perfect. I’m gushing…


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