May 27: Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary is a tedious, dull novel. Not bad, but boring. I read the book, in French, of course, and thought to myself, “Well, ok. That’s a classic?” So, it was no surprise to me that the film was equally tedious and dull. Not bad, though, just boring. If you don’t know, it’s about a peasant girl who marries a rather uninteresting doctor. She does this to escape the country, but she finds that married life is just as loathsome as her time on the farm. So, she finds ways to amuse herself. She spends money, she dresses up, she takes on lovers. Get it, girl. But, of course, her wicked ways catch up with her and she is suddenly out of money. Her husband loves her dearly and would have done anything to help her, but she never seems to catch on to that. She kills herself by sniffing arsenic. A beautifully gothic scene, that. Her death is really quite lovely in the film. It’s an okay picture, but nothing that I would go out of my way to see. [My Rating: 4/10]
May 28: No More Ladies
Not only is this a Joan Crawford picture (which more than merits a viewing) but it’s also the very first film appearance of another favorite, Joan Fontaine! What a delight! I’d seen this film ages and ages ago, but had forgotten nearly everything about it, so gave it another go when it popped up on TCM the other night. One of the most striking things, aside from the great talent of the two Joans is all the fantastic Art Deco scenery. It gave me multiple interior designgasms. (That’s a thing, you know, but it might just happen to me?) Why on Earth did we ever leave Art Deco behind for the horrors of modern and contemporary design? Ugh, it fills me with grief to see all these terribly plain buildings that are built these days. Some don’t even put up mouldings anymore. Can you imagine anything more tragic? Well, apart from wall to wall carpet. Carpet has begun to sicken me. All it does is collect filth and hide an opportunity for elegant flooring. Every home should have at least one gorgeous hardwood floor, preferably with a herringbone pattern. Anyway, the film is gorgeous. The plot is frivolous, though. Joan plays Marcia, a socialite who is stood up once again by her current beau, Sherry. (I often wondered if his name were not based on Colette’s Chéri. They shared similar qualities. No matter.) She can’t help but love him and soon they are engaged to be married. Unfortunately the two of them find it hard to stop their partying and sometimes philandering ways, so Joan arranges a party to test Sherry. It’s silly, but quite amusing. Lots of great acting. [My Rating: 6/10]
May 29: Book, Bell, and Candle
What an enchanting picture! (You’ll get it later.) I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. When I read the synopsis, I was only vaguely amused. It was about a witch who enchants a man. Great, I thought, another I Married a Witch. But, I was wrong. This one was much cleverer and more engaging. Kim Novak is superb in the role of Gillian Holroyd, a talented witch and shop owner living in a beautifully shot New York City. One snowy day, she sees her neighbor Shepard Henderson, played by James Stewart, and immediately knows that she wants him. She wants to get him using only her feminine whiles, though, and attempts to woo him. Through a series of events, he bumps into her at the underground Zodiac Club (an awesome place that needs to be opened up for real–mainly to see this) and Gil learns that Shepard is about to marry a girl from her college days that she absolutely loathes. To win him for sure, she casts a spell using a beautiful humming song and her charming cat, Pyewacket. Soon, Shep is head over heels in love with her and asks her to marry. She decides that she will and that she does love him, even though it risks losing her magical powers. It was all going swimmingly, but then a famous paranormal investigator comes to town to write a book about the secret world of witches in modern day New York City. Gil isn’t all that worried about this as his previous work was pretty untrue, but this time her brother Nicky is working with him and giving away all their secrets! An aside: why are men not named Nicky anymore? It’s charming. This simply will not do. She finally decides that she has to tell Shep the truth about her, even though it may ruin her relationship. He doesn’t believe her and thinks that she is trying to fool him so that he will publish Nicky’s book. It takes some time, but he does finally believe that he was enchanted by her and when he does, he is pissed. He goes to another witch to have the spell removed. Months pass. Gil is depressed. She has lost her magic because she loved him. Pyewacket has left her because he can no longer do magic with her. Her shop changes to something new, but even that doesn’t inspire any happiness in her. Pyewacket, through some cleverness of his own, goes to Shep and lingers around until he is forced to return him to Gil. When there, they are very awkward, neither knowing what to say. But finally, Shep sees a tear fall from Gil’s eye and he knows that she is no longer a witch, that she truly loves him, and that they can be together. Great for Shep, I thought, as the credits rolled, but what about poor Gil and Pye? She gave up everything just to be with a man. She can no longer be herself just because she loved him. I was pissed. I wanted her to get her powers back and I wanted Pye to be her familiar again, and I wanted their kooky way of life to go on. It was an odd message, having to smash a part of yourself to conform to the expectations of others. Good movie, though, all but the atrocious ending. [My Rating: 8/10]
May 30: The Others
THIS MOVIE IS A TRIUMPH OF MODERN CINEMA. J’ADORE! I never thought that I could love a contemporary film so much, but this picture is so fabulously well done that I am already pitting it against Joyful Noise for PICTURE of the YEAR. Two very different films, of course, but both equally fantastic. It’ll be a hard choice come December. I honestly cannot say enough good things about this movie. I have absolutely no issues with the acting, the plot, the writing, the set, the styling–I’m only full of love and admiration for it. Truly, it’s a masterpiece. Never in a million years did I think I would so appreciate a Nicole Kidman movie. Perhaps I have underestimated her talents? I did enjoy Moulin Rouge, though, and I also have Australia to watch, maybe I’ll like it much more than I hoped? Anyway, every single member of the cast was perfect. The young children were an incredible talent, in particular. I don’t want to say much to you, even though I’d happily gush on for ages about the particular brilliance of this film, but I want you to see it and enjoy it. In summary, The Others is about the Stewart family who live in a beautiful mansion on Jersey, a small British-ruled island off the coast of France. Grace, the mother played by Kidman, is awaiting her husband to come back from World War II. It’s been too long, and he’s likely dead, but she keeps hoping. Sadly, her children, Nicholas and Anne, have a strange medical disorder that makes them allergic to sunlight. If they are exposed to it, they will erupt in blisters. Because of this, the curtains of the house are to always be shut from the sun. Grace, is a cold woman, she loves her children, obviously, but she is determinedly religious and dogmatic in her discipline. She can’t keep it up all alone and so she takes on a group of servants to help her out. Once they arrive, strange things start happening. Anne is always claiming to talk to people and see people that aren’t there, but Grace will not believe. Nicholas is terrified. Finally, Grace realizes that there are unknown forces in the home, The Others. I won’t go on. See this film. It grips you from the very opening until the last magnificent scene. There is not one line of dialogue out of place, one unnecessary moment, one frame of film wasted. It’s a modern classic. [My Rating: 10/10]
May 31: Ghost Story
I didn’t quite believe that this was a real film when I first heard of it. It was released in 1981 and yet Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. were the leads? It didn’t make sense. They were Hollywood legends from the 30s, the Thin Man, Joan Crawford’s husband, and Ginger Roger’s dancing partner! Am I ever glad that I taped this one! I like horror films that don’t rely on special effects or screen gags to terrify the viewer (like The Others), I like subtlety and mystery and the occasional horrifying image. This picture is just the kind I like. The leads were excellent, though, why I ever doubted they would be is beyond me, they’re well seasoned actors. The story is about a club of men (Ricky, Sears, Dr. John, and Edward) called the Chowder Club. They amuse themselves by telling scary stories. It’s childish, but somehow endearing. When Edward’s son dies in New York City, after seeing something horrible and falling through a glass window to his death below (in an hilarious example of male nudity…it was the 80s after all), his other son Don, kind of a failure, comes up to visit his father and help him with his grief. The members of the Chowder Club are experiencing terrible nightmares, something awful is bothering them, but they won’t share what is happening. It seems as if they are being haunted by the ghost of something from their past. Edward sees a terrifying woman who scares him so badly that he falls from a bridge to his death. Don doubts that his father committed suicide, like the coroner’s report suggests, and he gets together with the rest of the Chowder Club to solve the mystery. He has to tell a scary story to get in, so he relates the tale of a woman named Alma who he was madly in love with and became engaged to. After a while, he finds her strange, she seems cold and inhuman and so he leaves her. Some time later, he hears that his brother is dating the same girl. Don warns him, but it didn’t do any good. Don suspects that Alma had something to do with his brother’s death. That evening Dr. John witnesses the apparition himself and dies of a heart attack. Finally the remaining members of the club share the story they have been hiding. They met a girl long ago that was very much like Alma, named Eva. They were all in love with her and she led them on. It was a gorgeous summer that they all spent together, but finally their penises got in the way and sexual jealousy ruined their fun. They get into a fight and Eva hit her head on the mantlepiece. She’s dead. The boys don’t know what to do, so they put her in her car and drive her in the lake. As they watch the car sink, they’re horrified as Eva sits up and looks at them–she’s alive! This memory plagues them all their lives. Ricky, Sears, and Don all go to Eva’s old house looking for clues and hoping to confront her. There, Don gets hurt, so Sears goes for a doctor. His car crashes and he dies. Now only Ricky and Don are left. Ricky seems to realize that the only way to save Don from the vindictive spirit is to raise the car from depths of the lake. Now, I take issue with this plot point. Do you know how long it takes to rake a lake? How long it takes to raise a car? Don was in desperate need of assistance and Ricky goes to the lake? Whatever, the car is pulled up and the body is still alive inside, but as she falls to the ground and her skin falls off, she dies. Don is saved. I rambled a bit didn’t I? It was a good movie, but that ending was kind of crap. It was the inevitable solution, but it didn’t fit in with Don being in danger. I recommend this one. [My Rating: 8/10]
MOVIE of the MONTH: The Others, no question. It’s amazing.
June 1: Mad Love
I hadn’t realized when I set this film to record that it starred Peter Lorre, when I did finally realize it, I was ecstatic! I love that guy. He’s so creepy! Lorre plays a genius surgeon named Dr. Gogol who is madly in love (therefore the title) with an actress named Yvonne whom he goes to see each night. His passion is dampened when he discovers that she is already married to a famous pianist. He’s quite pissed, but does a good job of not showing it. Both take leave of each other and go on to their lives. Sadly, Yvonne’s husband, Stephan, is in a train accident and his hands are crushed. His career is over! Woe! But, Yvonne thinks quickly and hurries him off to Dr. Gogol and pleads with him to save her husband’s hands. They are his life, after all. Because Gogol loves her so much, he agrees, and amputates the hands before attaching those he took from a corpse. Annoyingly, this corpse was a killer. So, when Stephan awakes with his new hands, he has difficulties playing piano and has a bizarre talent with knife throwing. The hands have a mind of their own! I shan’t give away the twist because it’s awfully good. The end is a masterclass in horror acting and Peter Lorre deserves every compliment. I can’t imagine anybody else playing such a fantastic villain. It’s a classic and highly recommended. I do have to take points off for the rest of the cast, they failed to reach the level of Lorre and because of that, weighed the picture down. [My Rating: 7/10]
June 2: Doctor X
This is another one of those strange films that doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to present. At times this was a comedy, sometimes a romance, at other times a mystery, and still at other points a horror film. Together, the themes were so confusing and unmeshed that it felt tiresome. The film is no jewel, anyway, so that wasn’t too tragic. In this, a newspaper reporter investigates what are known as the “Moon Killer Murders.” Each full moon a victim is brutally murdered. They are strangled, killed with scalpels, even cannibalized. Quite horrid really. This was obviously pre-code Hollywood. This investigation leads him to the mansion of Dr. X who is in charge of a laboratory of seemingly crazy men. They are so impassioned by their work that they don’t live lives of their own. The plot is beside the point, really, though. The remarkable thing about this picture was the way it was shot. It was an early experiment in Technicolor two-strip, which gave the entire film an eerie atmosphere it would never have had in regular black and white. Everything is a dark, lovely pastel. Quite an extraordinary looking piece of cinematic history. [My Rating: 4/10]
FILM of the WEEK: The Others It’s proof that Hollywood still can make a masterpiece, it’s a triumph of modern cinema, it’s just fantastic. See this picture today. It’s perfect.