Thursday, December 31, 2009

Delightful things in 2009

The best thing about 2009 was discovering George Raft. February 2009 brought me Invisible Stripes and with it, an actor who rapidly captured my heart and stayed there (eep, that means I need to redo my top ten favorite actors list, huh?). My love for him is undiminished, if anything it gets stronger with each movie of his I see. I recently watched a VHS tape of Souls at Sea (1937). Oh man, love! I never had a chance to review the film here, but I loved it, and George's character broke my heart in it and made me cry. I even didn't mind Gary Cooper at all. They made a very fun pair. Love their duets.

There were two other actors I had minor flings with this last year. Gilbert Roland, who I've always liked, but I finally got to sit down and watch a bunch more of his work. Still adore his Cisco Kid series. And a current actor... Colin Firth. I've had friends who've always liked him, but I never saw the appeal. Just never liked the romantic comedy character types he seemed to be locked into playing. I guess I was just waiting for him to appear in a movie where he played against that type. Turns out that movie was The Last Legion (2007), a Roman/Arthurian legend retelling that I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that while the first half of the movie is really good, the second half rather sucks. But what I enjoyed most was simply seeing Colin Firth in an action role. Ahhhh, finally! He's damned good at it too. So, watched a whole bunch of his movies, but with the exception of Fever Pitch (1997) (which I really really loved), the rest were meh and did nothing for me. Which just makes me plain cranky. Damn it all, can't I write him a movie script or two? Please?

Movies I bought this year after catching them on Netflix:

Alvarez Kelly
Escape from Fort Bravo (I owned a taped copy of this, but I wanted a clearer DVD copy to better enjoy all the lovely William Holden-ess of it. I particularly love the end of this movie.)
Picnic (another one I owned on tape, but wanted a clearer DVD copy)
The Black Swan (though this was gifted to me before I could buy it myself!)
Road to Perdition (also gifted before I could buy it!)

I will be buying The Last Legion, I just haven't yet. And I really want to own Rio Conchos, but alas, it's not out on DVD yet. Grr. And I think I also need a copy of Pixar's Up for myself. (I got one for my nephew for Christmas.) Now, everything I've seen by Pixar is very good, but Up tops them all. What a wonderful, crazy, beautiful, emotional ride! It only took one viewing to make it my favorite Pixar film.

New movies I actually saw in the theater:

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Star Trek

Kind of funny, really. All big budget types. But then, given how infrequently I go to the cinema, not surprising. I had much more fun watching classic movies. If only I lived closer to Hollywood and its revival theaters. I'd be going to the theater all the time. So many good classic movies appeared that if I had the resources, I'd go see on the big screen. This next year, I'll see if I can remedy that a bit, make the trek.

2009 was a good year for me. I have no complaints. Here's looking forward to 2010!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Musings on movies

I've been musing on Avatar since I saw it (impossible not to). It made me realize a couple things. One is exactly why I hate 95% of movie comedies so passionately. Old ones, new ones, ones in the middle... sure, there are some exceptions, but they more often than not leave me cold. I've never been able to put into words before why I hate comedies. Well, it all has to do with why we go to the movies. Or more specifically, why I go to the movies. Most people I know don't feel this way. But I do not go to the movies to laugh. I do not go to be amused. Those are probably the last reasons I'd go to see a movie. I have plenty of laughs at home. Life is full of laughs. This morning, I was at my sister's, and all we did was talk and laugh for an hour or so. I'm quite fulfilled in the giggle-department in real life. I don't want or need that in my fiction.

I know I've talked about this before, but I go to the movies for one reason: to escape into a fictional world. The more completely I can escape, the happier I am. This is one of the reasons why I believe in seeing movies on the big screen, because, I'm sorry, it ain't the same when you're sitting on a couch watching a film on television, or worse, sitting at your desk chair, watching a film on your monitor. I do it, but the screen is small and my peripheral vision takes in the rest of my living room. There's cars driving down the street, the dog wanting out, the cats wanting on my lap, and a hundred other things to pull me out of the moment. I HATE being pulled out of a movie by real life. Hate it. Passionately.

Which brings me back to comedies and why they don't work for me: there's always an awareness that they're targeting you, trying to make you laugh, aiming at an audience that is outside the film. And I don't want to be outside.

Which brings me back to Avatar, and why it is the perfect movie for me: it immerses me in its fiction, and the beautiful 3D? Pulls me in even more. I was there, running along a tree branch or diving off a cliff. One of my first despairing thoughts when it ended was "I don't want to go back to 2D movies now." I disappeared completely into this movie, and that is what I want out of my films. I don't come out of a comedy with a heightened sense of being alive, with my adrenalin kicking, with wanting to take off at a sprint through the parking lot, whooping just for the sheer joy of it. I don't soar when I come out of a comedy. And I need to soar. It's why I go to the movies. I still haven't come down off the high of seeing Avatar. I probably won't for awhile. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Hey! A new movie!

I went and saw Avatar yesterday. I never even saw a preview of this movie, had no idea who was in it (other than Sigourney Weaver), couldn't have told you what it was even about other than an alien planet. But I'm a huge James Cameron fan, and I went to see this movie on the strength of my faith in him as a director. Boy, was I not disappointed. This has to be the most beautiful and visually stunning movie I've ever seen. Holy smoke. The 3D was wonderful. It was never intrusive, never in your face, or used as a trick. It merely let you be a part of the world. I loved the characters, loved the world, loved James Horner's music, loved the sense of wonder the film evoked.... I haven't been this thoroughly grabbed by a modern movie since... er... I can't remember when. I can barely stand not heading back to the theater today to see it again this instant.

I don't know about your film experiences, but modern film audiences can be rather rude. Not in this movie. Nobody got up, nobody talked, nobody's cell phones went off. They were thoroughly attentive to the film and nothing else. I was sitting next to some young kids... you couldn't even tell they were there, they were so engrossed in the movie. The only time I noticed them was when they started bouncing in their seats and cheering at one point in the movie (an entirely appropriate moment; I felt like doing the same thing). They didn't budge otherwise. Can't tell you how refreshing that was.

Highly recommended. And definitely see it in 3D. In the theater. This is a movie that will never be the same on the small screen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all my blogging friends for a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Vol. 3

Yes, I did skip Vol. 2 by accident. Will come back to it. I liked this third disc. Talk about a lot of story crammed into a very short time. The first three episodes on this disc were the most interesting (and the most melodramatic). My favorite had to be the second ep, called "Confession," with Lee Marvin as Barbara's guest star du jour. Loved it! Sort of a Double Indemnity murder type story, (Barbara even compares it in her opening statements), with a spouse the wife wants to escape, a sap who proposes a way to do it... but then it twists the expectations around to paint the story in different colors. Plus, Lee Marvin's ambulance-chasing lawyer character lives over a merry-go-round, how crazy and cool (fictionally speaking) is that? Naturally, the merry-go-round plays into the story. Fun, solid entertainment.

I also really enjoyed "The Sisters," if for no other reason than they managed to portray a lot of the possible complexities of a sibling relationship, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

"Big Career" was my other favorite ep, mostly because I didn't anticipate where it was going. This is a slightly confused episode, though, with a bunch of rather mixed messages (do capable women belong in the work force, or minding the home as a housewife?). Has more useless, sponging men, strong women running businesses, and a tough old mother-in-law, this time played by Elizabeth Patterson (aka Mrs. Trumbull on I Love Lucy, among a jillion other things).

The other two eps were also enjoyable, but not as complex as the first three.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Vol 1

Just finished enjoying the first disk of this show. It's nice to have an anthology series featuring a strong woman protagonist in almost every episode. There are five eps on this first disc. I have to admit, since I'm a huge Vic Morrow fan, I got this disc more to see his ep, "Keys to a Killer," than anything else. Alas, his ep had one of the weaker stories in the bunch, which is too bad, as everything else was great about it. Barbara Stanwyck plays a deputy and sheriff's wife, transporting wanted killer (Vic Morrow) to the authorities. The car crashes, and Vic goes on the run, Barbara in tow because they're handcuffed together, and, to not let him escape, she throws the handcuff key off a cliff, banking on him not shooting her because he won't want to drag her dead body around. She's right, of course, and then she sets about trying to figure out what will break him while leading him in circles. The ultimate answer is way too easy and neat and tidy and made me want to smack the television in irritation. Just get rid of that part, and it would have been quite goood in all aspects.

Vic Morrow is one of those actors who understands subtext and how to use it. He often slips in visual things that belie the dialog, exposing what the character is really feeling. He was a master of this, it's one of the reasons I love watching him in films and television. It's his acting that elevates characters as potentially cliche and throwaway as his Leroy Benson in this ep. He has one super neat moment in this ep that is pure Vic at work. Minor plot spoilers follow...

He finally realizes he's not getting anywhere fast handcuffed to Ms. Stanwyck. His only option to get away, he decides, is to go back and get his switchblade... and cut Barbara Stanwyck's hand off. Way gruesome and so unexpected in a 1960's tv show! But the thing is, he's come to rather like her. She's treated him relatively nicely as she draws bits of his life story out of him, and he doesn't really want to do it. He just doesn't see any other option, and if it's her hand or his life, he knows which way he has to choose.

His dialog is straight-forward, unrepentant, all "I gotta do this, and that's all there is to it" type stuff. The words don't say he's sorry or that he regrets this choice, but his actions do. His body language, his eyes... he's freaking out inside at the very thought of what he's going to do to her while the dialog says something else. And for one lovely moment in the midst of it, he presses his head to her hand, as if begging silently for her forgiveness. Subtext in action, baby. Dig it. I do so love Vic Morrow.

As for the other eps on the disk, their plots seemed to get consequtively better. My favorite of the eps was "The Secret of Mrs. Randall," a convoluted little melodrama about betrayal and love and redemption that was right up my alley. Barbara plays the president of an oil company, whose mother-in-law (who's chairman of the board!) gave her the position of president when her husband couldn't cut it! WOO! Gotta love strong women running oil companies! Barbara Stanwyck is excellent in every ep, as are the supporting casts. I loved Doris Packer, who played her mother-in-law in this ep. The two have some very nice scenes together.

I'm definitely looking forward to getting the rest of the discs.