Movie Resolution: Week 24

June 10: The Smiling Ghost

This was one of the most racist movies I have ever seen. That said, the racism filled this picture with inappropriate giggles. The film is based on a very flimsy plot, but that didn’t seem to matter much as it was a rather amusing film. Lucky Downing is broke and needs to find work, and so he answers an ad in the paper that seems too good to be true. All he has to do is be the fiancé of Elinor Fairchild for a month and collect a nice pile of money. Lucky and Clarence (his best friend of African descent that he rudely insists on calling his valet) are down with this, so they head upstate to meet the woman. On the platform, Lucky mistakes Elinor for an older woman. An incredibly offensive scene follows where he gets into a fight with her for being ugly. He is upset that he has been “tricked” into spending the month with an ugly woman. I was disgusted, really, but couldn’t turn away. What a prick! He has no money, but he also has no manners. If you have no money and all you have to do is say that you’re engaged, you don’t complain. If you’re “engaged” to a crone, deal with it, puta. He was such a little bitch. Elinor finally shows up, and, of course, she’s gorgeous. Le sigh… He also meets Lil, who is the town reporter and seems determined to get a story out of him. He’s a bumbling fool and almost spills the story. I really hated him. They all get to the house and meet the family. Elinor’s uncle is a mad scientist who has a passion for shrunken heads. He needs a “negroid” head to finish his collection and is of course eying poor Clarence. After a bit, we finally get to the story. Elinor is supposedly cursed. Each man that she is engaged to is doomed to die by the hands of “The Smiling Ghost.” Two are dead and one is paralyzed and damned to life in an iron lung. Lucky has been paid to see what will happen to him. Lil tells him all this in the bushes. It was silly. By this point, Lucky has fallen in love with Elinor (with her looks, mind you, she is a cold bitch) and is determined to marry her. Whatever. I thought it was going to be a simple ending, but the story devolves into something actually quite complex. Lucky decides to investigate with Lil, they break into tombs, investigate the deaths, interview the fiancé in the iron lung. Finally, they decide that Elinor’s first husband isn’t dead at all, but is stalking her lovers for some reason. The climax of the film takes place in a secret chamber beneath the mansion, the existence of this place is never explained, which annoyed me. The ghost is finally revealed to be the fiancé in the iron lung who had made a mask of the first husband’s face and worn it to fool others. It was ridiculous, but Lucky finally realizes he loves Lil and they’re all happy in the end, Clarence, too. [My Rating: 6/10]

June 11: Everybody Sing 

Everybody hates this movie, but I love it! It is one of Judy Garland’s first features and she was just charming and sings beautifully. Her music isn’t as appreciated as it should be these days. I don’t understand why, it’s gorgeous. Her very particular phrasing and voice is only Judy, not like singers today that all sound the same. Gaga is distinctive once in a while, but today, there is nobody quite like her. Perhaps Adele? I dislike her, though, so much misery. Well, I always know when Beyoncé is singing. She and I are tight, but you know that. Anyway, back to the movie. It’s a silly little thing that exists only for the musical numbers, but I’m not complaining. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “I LOVE MUSICALS!” Judy was kicked out of school for singing jazzy tunes. It was stupid, but didn’t matter, as it gave us an opportunity to hear Judy sing jazzy numbers. So, Judy goes home to her crazy family. Her father is a playwright, her mother is his star, her sister isn’t really anything, the maid, Olga, played by Fannie Brice is FABULOUS, and the chef is always trying to woo her sister. He wouldn’t have had to try so hard if he wasn’t always trying to be handsome. Perhaps it was just me, but he had this weird thing where he is just too full of himself. And this is coming from the vainest person I know, me. Everybody is busy with their lives and have no time for Judy. She is most comfortable around Ricky, the chef I was discussing, and Olga, and they talk to her of her troubles. It turns out that the family is running out of money and Judy is determined to save her family from financial ruin, so she sings at a nightclub where Ricky dresses up like an Italian and loudly sings. What is it with that? Desi Arnaz did it, Mario Lanza did it, trying to blow my ear drums, I think. Avoid The Great Caruso if you want to protect your hearing. Judy’s father is pissed, she is supposed to be 12 or something, after all, and decides to ship her off to Europe. Judy is having none of this and hops ship and goes to try out for a show Ricky is putting together. She performs in blackface and it is as ludicrous as you can imagine. Good rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” though. (I know, right?) Ricky puts her in the show. He also puts Olga in, who performs the fantastically inept number, “Quainty, Dainty, Me.” I nearly died laughing. The show goes on to be a great success and everybody is happy. Ridiculous movie, but worth seeing. [My Rating: 9/10]

June 12: A Stolen Life

This film has been on my iPad since the day I bought it years and years ago. I promptly forgot that I had loaded it and was happy to discover it while I was rolling croissants. iPads are amazing. You need to buy one if you don’t have one, and don’t give me any of that Samsung tablet crap, nothing compares to iPads. This is another wonderful Bette Davis film, I never get tired of them, I watched another one today, but I’m so behind in these posts that you won’t hear about that for weeks and weeks. Bette plays two roles, twin sisters, much like in Dead Ringer, which is awesome, see that film if you can find it. It’s coming out on Blu-Ray in October! Putting that on the shopping list. I haven’t seen it in forever. Maybe I’ll hook up the Laserdisc player to see it all over again. Anyway, Bette plays Kate who falls in love with a lighthouse worker named Bill. Kate’s sister, Patricia (also Bette!), is always jealous of Kate and finding ways to torment her, so she maliciously steals Bill away from Kate. Rude! Kate is terribly bothered by this, as anybody would be, so she paints to distract herself from her pain. She has a gallery showing and meets Karnock, played by Dane Clark who keeps popping up everywhere, to my delight, he’s great. In this film, he’s a jerk, but he’s a great artist, and she takes lessons from him to better her talents. Everything is going along swimmingly until Patricia shows up, she decided not to go to Chili with Bill and returns home to Nantucket. The twins decide to go boating and a horrible storm arrives and Patricia drowns. When Kate wakes up, she discovers that everybody thinks that she is Patricia because Patricia’s wedding ring slips into her hands as she tried to pull her back aboard the boat. She wants to correct everybody’s mistake, but she decides that she might be better off as Patricia. She’ll have Bill and she’ll be happy. But life isn’t quite what she planned. Patricia had been awful to Bill and he no longer loves her. She is about to throw it all away and run away, but the truth outs and Bill and Kate live happily ever after. Quite a wonderful, if improbable film. Plus, you get two Bette’s for the price of one, which can never be a bad thing. [My Rating 8/10]

June 13: Haunting Villisca (I refuse to provide a link to this crap fest)

This is, without a doubt, without a tremor of doubt, the worst film ever created in the history of cinema. I’ve seen stinkers before in my time, but Haunting Villisca makes Les Vacances de M. Hulot look like a masterpiece. This shit is an atrocity, an affront to the art of cinema. It should never have been created. It should never have been released. Nobody should have supported this effort. It was a waste of over two and one half hours of my life that I will never get back. I would have rather sat through invasive surgery. I still don’t have the foggiest notion what it was supposed to be about or what the message was supposed to be. I’ll briefly summarize, though it pains me to delve back into this trash. David Salt is a community college professor who is married to a mentally unstable woman and carrying on an affair with one of his students. His wife shoots herself in a wedding dress in his classroom. She asked him to give some papers to her father before she died, so David goes off to Iowa to follow out her wishes. Every time he tells people where he is off to he says a variation of: “Iowa…it’s west…middle west.” I wanted to throttle him. We all know where effing Iowa is. Of course, once he’s in Iowa, there is the mandatory cornfield shot, the mandatory peasants (who do not exist, mind you), and a bunch of folksy nonsense. His car breaks down outside of Villisca, and then of course, again in front of the Jones House. (The Villisca Ax Murder house. Read my previous blogs on the subject if you don’t know the story.) While at the house he meets a plethora of kooky characters that actually seem engaging and make the few moments decent enough to almost enjoy. But just as soon as we meet them, they’re gone and we never have any followup. This is just bad storytelling. You never introduce a character with no purpose. Each character, aside from an extra, is a device for furthering plot and needs to have a complete story arc of their own. Throwing in a person for a five minute piece of dialogue is infuriating. David is offered a room at the Darwin and Martha Linn, who are real people who own the Villisca house. They are charming and naturals in front of the screen, but their Lifetime acting is ruined by David. I don’t know what he did to get the lead role, but he is crap. I hope to God that he takes lessons if we’re ever forced to see him again in anything, even a commercial. Now we learn about the Villisca house, even though the story is being pointlessly told through horrifically done period acting of the court case. It’s so bad, people. The story is going nowhere. We go into the house and all of a sudden his wife, who killed herself, is stuck in the house, trapped. Why? This is not explained. Then a ghost hunting team comes from the local news to investigate for a story. He throws himself into it, these final twenty minutes are the only things that are salvageable in the film, they are borderline mediocre. Somehow he releases his wife’s spirit, and it’s over, and he can be with his student lover. OH MY EFFING GOD! I WANTED TO DIE. It was so, so, so, so bad. You’re all probably saying, “But Ben, future and obvious replacement for Robert Osbourne, why did you put yourself through that pain?” Good question, readers. It was part of my research on the Villisca house, which I extensively toured shortly after this viewing. I wanted to see anything based on the home. That’s why. But, I do not recommend that anybody try to see this. I actually advise you to go out of your way to never think of it. I’m not totally heartless, and I think that anything can be saved. There’s a bit of good in everything. Had this story been tweaked (many, many, many times) it could have had a decent plot. First, things first, though, cut out an hour of pointless subject matter: the court cases, the police woman, the idiotic shots of the Villisca festivals, and get to the story. If I had been at the helm, I would have revamped the beginning. Mentally disturbed wife? Fine, fabulous, we can work with this! David and his wife should have either been ghost hunters investigating the house, or they should have moved into the Villisca house as a way to escape the stress of their lives in the East Coast. It’s naive, but it’d work. The paranormal darkness of the house could have possessed his wife leading to her death. It makes sense for her to be trapped there now, the little children’s spirits refusing to let her move on, keeping her there for motherly affection. Then, we bring in comedic relief via a team of paranormal investigators. Together, David and them would fight the darkness (the ax murderer’s spirit) and free the children and his wife from their earthly prison. It could easily be under two hours, and with tight, well-written dialogue, it would have been great. Also, the clothing was just wrong. David was styled terribly. He looks like a slightly younger Kody Brown (Sister Wives) and is dressed in poorly fitted jeans and a tshirt that is easily three sizes too large for him. A bit of taste for fashion, story, and dialogue and this could have at least managed to be mediocre. Instead, it failed on all accounts and I loathe it’s existence. [My Rating: 0/10, if I’m honest, it’s really like -100/10.]

June 14: The Tourist

I’m very foolish in the way I avoid modern cinema, it’s often rather good. But, I’m always expecting unnecessary explosions, language, and nudity. This, though, felt like a movie of yesteryear. It easily could have been made in the 40s with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, but it was made in 2009 with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Fabulous, truly. I’ve never seen an Angelina Jolie film, and I’m very sorry that I haven’t, she’s truly talented. I love the way she sashayed through Paris with a smug look on her lips, that’s acting. I’ll see more for sure, count me in for the midnight showing of Maleficent. We all collectively died over this, didn’t we?:

 Johnny Depp is wonderful as well, he rarely does poorly. I didn’t much care for him in The Libertine, but that’s beside the point. I don’t want to give much of the story away, because it’s really quite clever (until the ending, which I hated) so I’ll give the vaguest of summaries. Angelina plays Elise, who is being spied on because of her relationship with Alexander Pearce, who stole billions of dollars from a mobster. British intelligence needs to find him because he owes a lot of back taxes, plus the leader of the sting has a thing for Elise. Elise gets a note from her lover to leave Paris for Venice and to find somebody that matches his height and build and convince the police that it is really Alexander. She does and chooses Johnny, who plays Frank, an American teacher. He’s smitten with her and she leads him on. Soon, though, Frank is in trouble because people really do believe he is Pearce and he’s being shot at and kidnapped with regularity. Elise is also in trouble because the mobster Alexander pissed off is getting very close to her. The tension builds and builds and builds and leads to a disappointing ending. I won’t give it away because it is truly shocking, but it falsifies the entire film, taints it with lies and utterly sullies my appreciation for the chemistry between the actors. Had the ending been more logical, this film would have won my full approval and a perfect rating. Alas, it did not. [My Rating: 9/10]

June 15: Made in Paris

Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. Bad writing and storytelling ruin what could have been a decent picture. The story is about Maggie Scott, who looks bizarrely like Amy Adams, they could be the same person. She is a young professional at a department store in Paris. The owner’s son, Ted, suggests that she be the new fashion buyer in Paris. Maggie is inexperienced, but is thrilled at the opportunity. The film is going great until she actually arrives in Paris. The plot made sense, there was ample opportunity for character development and interesting activities, but the film threw itself away. Maggie arrives in Paris as a different person altogether, she wears a ridiculous hat (one of many), she becomes aloof and acts as if she is vastly superior to all those around her. She offends Marc Fontaine (played as best as he could by Louis Jourdan, the role was pathetically bad, I felt sad for him) who then falls madly in love with her. It’s illogical. I see no reason why anybody should fall in love with Maggie Scott. She is a bipolar bitch, one minute she’s a prudish ice queen, then the next she becomes an overtly sexual lush. Her mood swings make no sense and they make the film exhausting. Then Ted rushes to Paris after he hears that Maggie has made a mess of things. Now he is fighting for her hand, too. Idiotic fools. She flips and flops between them, sings a bizarre song on the quai with Marc (stunningly trite), gets drunk and goes to American bars, it goes on and on. Finally she realizes that she would be happier with Ted and they drive off in a station wagon filled with hairy dogs. Stupid, stupid movie. The only redeeming quality of the entire film was the music played over the credits, Made in Paris sung by Trini Lopez. [My Rating: 1/10, for the song, not the film.]

June 16: The Swan

I don’t really care for Grace Kelly as an actress. I adore her as a princess, plan on following in her footsteps and everything (Prince Benjamin! Oh, what a ring that has to it. I plan on outdoing my friends Kate and Will. Their nuptials will be looked on as a minor occurrence when compared to mine), but on screen, Grace never connects with her character and always seems to be going through the motions. The story obviously exists to cash in on Kelly’s upcoming wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, which I approve of, commercialism is key. Unfortunately, the story was crap, dated crap. A bunch of pretty people in pretty rooms in boring scenarios with no chemistry. Kelly plays Princess Alexandra who must make a wonderful impression on her distant cousin Prince Albert. By marrying him, she can save her family’s fortune and regal lifestyle. Prince Albert agrees to come spend time with the family, but he’s aloof and not at all friendly and not at all handsome. I don’t get the appeal of Alec Guinness–less than handsome people are destined for stage and radio, not the silvery screen! Everything is probably going to end up fine, but Dr. Agi, the fencing teacher/tutor has fallen madly in love with the Princess and she for him. This makes no sense because neither of them hinted at these passionate feelings. The viewer can imagine Grace Kelly and Louis Jourdan (who was at the height of his looks in this picture) together much easier than Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness, though. Alas, Prince Albert is jealous and tries to ruin Dr. Agi and does. The ending of the picture is quite shockingly realistic. Princess Alexandra lets Dr. Agi go and consents to marry Prince Albert. She realizes that her life is destined to be an unhappy one, but she settles for that. Quite beautiful, that sentiment. The unusual qualities of this ending enhanced the film for me, but not enough to have made me enjoy it tremendously. Beautiful ending monologue:

Prince Albert: “Your father used to call you his swan, so I am told. I think that’s a good thing to remember. Think what it means to be a swan. To glide like a dream on the smooth surface of the lake, and never go to the shore. On dry land, where ordinary people walk, the swan is awkward, even ridiculous. When she waddles up the bank she resembles a different kind of bird, n’est-ce-pas?”

Princess Alexandra: “A goose.”

Prince Albert: “I’m afraid so. And there she must stay, out on the lake; silent, white, majestic. Be a bird, but never fly; know one song but never sing it until the moment of death. And so it must be for you, Alexandra. Cool indifference to the staring crowds along the bank. And the song? Never.”

[My Rating: 5/10]

FILM of the WEEK: Everybody Sing I loved everything about it! I really wish I could have chosen The Tourist, but the ending was so unappealing that I can’t.

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