Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

The wife decided the Garland needed an upgrade, so we went to a TV repair shop and picked up a large (for us), refurbished set for $40. Our notion is that we'll use it as long as we live in this house, and when we move, we'll give it back to the shop and buy a flat screen once we're settled in our new place. I waited to set it up until the wife went out to run errands because I like to have a a chance to swear without her popping her head in the room to ask what's wrong. Nothing, dear, some jobs just require swearing.

Our first film with the new screen was the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, which I selected partly because we know a guy who was recently a crew member on the refurbished ship from the film. (It's an evening of refurbishment.)

Marlon Brando builds a nice story arc for Fletcher Christian, beginning as a fop and ending as someone who wants to turn himself in. His only scene that doesn't ring true is the speechifyin' bit near the end -- he has fun with it, but it's one of those noble movie speeches that nobody makes in real life. It's a William-Shatneresque scene in an otherwise Johnny-Depplike performance. Jeez, Marlon; if you want to send a message, call Western Union! Fortunately, a few minutes later, Brando gets the movie back on track right before it ends with a long and darned fine death scene.

Nice that the DVD has the complete roadshow version of the film with the overture and intermission music. Wish it came with one of those full-color souvenir program books you used to be able to buy in theater lobbies (and which were such frequent thrift store finds in the 70s that I thought they would remain utterly valueless).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dracula (Spanish language version)

Though it was shot after hours on the same sets, the Spanish version of Dracula is similar but not identical to the 1931 Tod Browning film. Not merely a curio, it's a great film in its own right -- possibly a little better than the English version, if less culturally influential. Interesting to see how different actors interpret the well-known characters. If you thought Dwight Frye chewed the scenery as Renfield, wait till you get a load of Pablo Alvarez Rubio, who gulps down the entire Universal lot.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

There really aren't any "good" versions of Alice, in the sense of being faithful to the original, but there are some that start with the books and then spin off into some crazy director's vision (Jan ҆vankmajer leaps to mind, and I'm fond of the Max Fleischer cartoon "Chess Nuts"). Sadly, the version I just watched was a made-for-TV version, featuring mostly horrible televison and Las Vegas performers, and it never took flight. I mean, really, did the world need to see a great performer like Sammy Davis Jr. in a blue caterpillar costume? Inexplicably famous Telly Savalas as the Cheshire Cat? Frickin' Steve Lawrence and frickin' Eydie Gorm√© as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? Even the members of the cast whom I like (Jonathan Winters, Imogene Coca, Robert Morley) are not exactly at the peak of their powers here. If you, like me, suffered through countless awful talk and variety shows in the 1970s, this movie is an all-too-familiar reminder of the many has-beens and never-weres who populated that world. In fact, the whole thing would have been much better as an SCTV sketch -- Sammy Maudlin as the King of Hearts! Bobby Bittman as the Mad Hatter! Johnny LaRue as Humpty Dumpty!

Oh, and Alice had an American accent!

Oh, and yet there's a fan tribute page.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Desk Set (1957)

Tracy and Hepburn again. He's an IBM computer expert, she's a researcher at a TV network, and they fall in geek love, of course. The chemistry is the whole reason to have a movie, as usual, and there is one of those scenes they always do where he keeps giving her those silent, mildly irritated looks he does so well that say, "Hmm... you're pretty amazing... maybe I underestimated you..." The film chugs along mildly realistically until the last few reels, when the gigantic computer finally arrives in the office -- it looks like something Batman might have in the Batcave, and is prone to freaking out, making boinging noises and emitting smoke. Overall, a fun movie, but not the pair's best.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Everything is Illuminated" stars Elijah Wood as an affectless Jewish writer who goes to the Ukranine to research his family history. I'm not quite sure if you can combine a zany, picturesque road movie with a moving tale about anti-Semitism, but director Liev Schreiber gives it a shot. The screwy, zany bonus scenes, had they been left in, would have made it even harder. I've never liked stereotypical, Borat-like, Slavic bumpkin characters (which is only partly why I hated Borat, the only movie I've ever taken back to the video store for a refund), but Eugene Hultz, who looks like a young John Turturro, manages to pop from two-dimensional to... well, to two-and-a-half dimensional by the end of the movie.

"Popeye, the sailor. Volume one, 1933-1938" Oh boy, this is a great DVD set. The bonus features include silent "Out of the Inkwell" shorts, which are all really grand, as well as several other silent shorts. Just to be able to watch Popeye cartoons one after the other is such a treat. It made me realize what a deeply moral character Popeye is -- don't laugh, I'm serious. Unlike goody-two-shoes characters like Mickey Mouse, Popeye does what's right. There's one very sweet cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto, dressed to the nines, drive to Olive Oyl's house for a night on the town on New Year's Eve, and Popeye decides that it would be wrong to leave Olive's grandmother at home while they're out having fun. Popeye announces that granny is to be his date for the evening, and while Bluto and Olive make fun of him, he proceeds to spend the rest of the picture being nice to an old lady. Of course, he gives her some spinach and they win a dance contest, which isn't much of a plot, but I defy you to find an example of Mickey Mouse ever being this kind. I found it strangely moving.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

State of the Union

There has to be a worst Tracy/Hepburn movie, and this is it. When Frank Capra decides to make a movie that is talky and preachy, he doesn't do halfway. No, he goes full bore, in every sense of the word. I fell asleep on the couch several times, and every time I woke up, there was Tracy again, giving another speech. The defining moment of this movie was when Hepburn makes Tracy sleep on the floor; he responds by laying down and giving another speech, which, of course, brings a tear to her eye.