Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Gazebo

1959

directed by: George Marshall  … again

And we’re really back. Debbie film #23 of 37.   This film was based around the inescapable truth: MURDER can be LIGHTHEARTED & FUNNY. What a sad weird film. I think this was supposed to be a dark comedy. But wow, what a terrible premise to base the film on.  It seemed as everyone in this film never decided how to play their characters, such as scenes where emotions should be scared, confused, hurt, worried, etc.  And that damn pigeon, but I’ll get to that later.

The Gazebo stars Glenn Ford AGAIN (terrible actor – see It Started with a Kiss) and Debbie as husband and wife living their days as a TV producer and Broadway star.  His best friend is a District Attorney played by a young Carl Reiner.  Totally believable up to this point…  Anyways, Ford is a dolt with zero redeeming qualities, no discernible talent at his job or in life, and possibly only saved/likable for his … uh… loyalty to his wife? Maybe? Otherwise, he is manic, paranoid, and irrational. And his REAL best friend is an actual pigeon. Totally the type to be married to Debbie as a Broadway musical star.  She was stunning in the film (they even did a fake musical within the movie scene) but totally hamstrung by the weak characterization and Ford’s “acting”.

The basic rub over the movie is Debbie took some dirty pictures when she was 18 and now (9 years later for some reason – based on her actual age) someone (again for some reason) is trying to blackmail Ford into paying him to keep them out of the papers. …Not that any paper in America would run nude photos in the ’50s or 2017.  So maybe out of Playboy.  Sure let’s run with that.  Okay…  so Ford reacts by trying to sell the house (because he has no savings for some reason).  Here are some other alternatives Glenn:  Fire your housekeeper and start cleaning your own damn house, Take out a loan, Take out a 2nd mortgage, Ask family, Ask friends like your well-to-do DA pal, tell your DA pal about the blackmail, ask your wife if she cares about the pictures.   But no. Debbie loves the house and doesn’t want to move. Okay fine.  Next alternative… obviously kill that motherf’in blackmailer dead in your own home.

In the end, all the blackmailers are dead, the pigeon flies away and they sell the house anyway.  The End.

Oh yeah and that titular Gazebo.  Nothing to do with anything really.

Martin Landau was in this film for a hot second and kidnapped Debbie Reynolds. Probably the most bizarre scene.  But neat to see him working.

Underrated actors: Martin Landau as a goon/thug.

 

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Double Dynamite

1951

directed by: Irving Cummings

The longest hiatus. But we’re back with a whimper! It’ll be fun to get back into the writing game and watching old movies in the Warner Archive with my review hat.  So, after all this time, here goes:

Double Dynamite(!) is a 1951 cash-grab sort, made for unknown reasons, starring a 3rd-billed actor movie with some guy named Frank Sinatra.  Also, old-man Groucho is in this and Jane Russell.  Interestingly enough, this was filmed in 1948.  Which makes the following true: Russell was massively famous as more of a pin-up type with no real acting chops, Groucho is 58 and phoning in the phone-in, which brings us to Frank. Now 1950-1952 would be the valley, nadir, anti-climax of Frank’s reign in both music and movies.   And oooooh-boy does it show here.

So, in summary, you should expect a movie that sat on the shelf for years with no actors and/or people of demand to be poor. And it was. And it was.  When we were watching this, I was trying to think of a modern day casting with similar career trajectories. And this is it: Imagine a movie with Drake as the leading man, Blake Lively as the one-dimensional love interest and Tim Allen as a waiter. That movie would be bad! But it would probably make $50 million at the box office with terrible reviews. Such is life I suppose.

Double Dynamite(!) [an awful title] tells the story of 2 bank tellers, tellering at a bank and struggling to get by. Thing is though, none of the economics or math of this movie makes any sense.  It seemed like both Russell and Sinatra were doing okay at the bank, getting by, working to someday move up and on to bigger and brighter things. Hell, they could afford to eat out at the Italian Restaurant where Groucho knew them on a first name basis. Couldn’t be that destitute.  Anyways, literally the rest of the movie can be summed up in an elevator pitch.  Sinatra saves this guy from being beat up in an alley for some reason and the guy turns out to be a big bookie for horse races.  As a thank you, the bookie gives Frank a reward which he forces him for some reason to use on fixed races, making his earnings the equivalent of $600,000 in 2017!  For saving a guy being harassed in the street! Man.  There’s a few Frank songs. That’s literally the movie.  Oh and there’s a malfunction on one of the calculators at the bank, so they think some money is missing for a while, but then discover the glitch. So … there’s no problem.  Groucho is in this movie as a waiter for no reason.  The punchline at the end is about taxes! It’s like being sad that a briefcase of money fell out of the sky and the only reason you knew it was a briefcase of money is because some of it flew away as it was falling. “Well, I could have had more of that money if it didn’t fly away 😦 ”

Oh and the bank owner’s son goes out on a date with Jane Russell even though she’s engaged to Frank.  Which is totally normal.

Underrated actors: No one.


Shadow of the Thin Man

1941

directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

220px-shadow_of_the_thin_man

So we’re starting a new theme here at the blog.  Donna Reed movies pre-It’s a Wonderful Life. There are 19 in all between 1941 & 1946 (Think of anyone in Hollywood being in 19 movies today over the same span).  Definitely doable, review wise though.   Shadow is #2 of 19.

Shadow of the Thin Man is the 4th installment in the six part ‘Thin Man’ series which ran from 1934 to 1947. All 6 starred William Powell and Myrna Loy.  So, here we are again with Myrna Loy.  Can’t seem to keep away from her.  Now, admittedly, watching the 4th movie in a series first is a bit unfair, comparable to seeing say, the … 4th Harry Potter movie? and understanding all the meanings and characters and stuff. Thankfully, this movie punished me as a first-time viewer by perpetually involving cameos by people who appeared in earlier films in a sort of ‘aw-shucks remember me?’ way.

Plot-wise, it’s a normal murder mystery P.I. film.  Powell plays Nick Charles, a playboy (though married to Loy’s character, Nora), drunk, Sherlock Holmes-ian guy whom everyone in America seems to know & love.  As mentioned earlier, it was tough to keep track of the characters, not knowing if they were ‘just stopping by to say hello’ or a murder suspect or a friend or a friend but not really or a mobster or what.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Donna Reed. I’m doing a terrible job already.  She was decent as the secretary to one of the mobsters and girlfriend to Barry Nelson (much better in this role, his screen debut, than opposite Debbie Reynolds 22 years later in Mary, Mary. Holy moly, that was bad.)  She shows up 27 minutes in, doesn’t really factor into anything substantial plot-wise, and then she shows up later on when they all (Nick, Nora, her and Nelson) go out to dinner.

To wrap it up: TONS of dry humor, confusing plot, don’t start with the 4th movie in a series.

Underrated Actors: a soft-toss to Donna Reed. Too easy.  Sam Levene was also good as the police Lieutenant.


Elizabethtown

2005

directed by: Cameron Crowe

Greetings audience of none!  Before we dive back into our movie reviews, let’s recap the night thusfar.  A lovely Friday night here at my desk as I sit typing this.  I’m mildly to generally excited to tell you about my thoughts, insights, and opinions about Elizabethtown.  And it wouldn’t be a Cameron Crowe movie review without oversaturating it with some music.  Right now, listening to some tunes by Melody Gardot.

So how am I feeling? Well let’s see if we can pick up any clues from the narrative. Was the last to leave work tonight, which normally isn’t a problem and happens about once every couple of weeks.  It’s surprising how much work gets done in a silent office building.  I headed for the bathroom to change back into shorts and my thermal to get ready for the bike home.  Walked downstairs and had to traverse the warehouse to get to where I left my bike.  I got about 4 feet before the alarms started to go off.  Great. Apparently the 2nd to last guy (who assumed he was the last one there) set the alarm for the night.  Didn’t bother checking if anyone was still there? Oh, its just me. After doing my best cat burglar impression (basically retracing my steps) had to call a coworker to get the code to override the alarm.  Thankfully, 80 police weren’t waiting for me when I finally got out of the building.  Mostly uneventful ride home. Phew. Upon arriving home from work, I knew it was going to be a special night for someone.  Candles were lit and for a split second I was like , ‘wait, is this for me?’ And then I’m like, ‘haha, yeah right’.  Cut to right now.  One of the bro gym teacher roommates is banging some chick in his room.  Now normally I’m uncomfortable using such a vulgar turn of phrase.  But this …  isn’t much of anything else.  Paper thin walls. Man, I need to move.

(For those of you keeping track at home, yes there exist homes in the world where in one room, one dude is banging a chick (most likely a stranger), and in another, someone is typing a review of Elizabethtown while listening to Melody Gardot to drown out sounds)

Let’s go to town.

So, I know this is a giant departure from my old reviews, but I promise I’ll move back into familiar territory soon.  This viewing came about tonight from having stumbled onto this article , which I’ll get into later.  The only other reference I’ve seen made to this movie is that I’m certain my sister owns it (photographic memory at its finest).  And it’s Cameron Crowe.  It couldn’t be that bad, right?  I’m a big Say Anything fan.  “Dear Diane, I’ll always be there for you. All the love in my heart, Lloyd”  Best . Letter. Ever.  On the flip side, I didn’t really care for Almost Famous.  At all.  Vanilla Sky, underrated & enjoyable. Anyways, the man’s other works is another article in itself.

Alright, Orlando Bloom is a terrible … awful … just egregiously stiff and bland actor.  Honestly, it was train-wreck city from start to finish.  It was so so so so so hard to overlook this.  Obviously, it didn’t help that the movie revolved around him.  So Elizabethtown starts with this far-fetched premise that Bloom plays this shoe designer (sounds like a fake career I would make up at a party) who loses big…somehow…on this supposedly revolutionary shoe.  I’m not really certain how the economics of shoe design work, but I don’t think you’re sinking 900 million dollars into pre-production of a shoe.  Honestly, where are the focus groups? Or the soft release with limited supply to create demand before you launch into full production.  You know, have your early adopters. But I know, I know. I’m missing the point. Or am I? It seems like Bloom takes this to heart, as he’s ready to kill himself before he gets a phone call.  Turns out his Dad just died.  Okay, now you’ve created a nebulous plot.  Am I supposed to be focused on his failed shoe career? His missed relationship with his father? I mean it can’t be his failed relationship with ‘I’m in the movie for 2 minutes and have terrible lines and no soul’ Jessica Biel.  Anyways, he heads out to Elizabethtown, Kentucky his hometown to burn up his dead father and bring him back to Oregon.  And then kill himself.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense.  Why delay it? Oh, I guess I should do this one thing for the sister and mother I was going screw over and leave behind anyways (being dead and all) and go and bring my estranged father who I’ve never meant to actually visit while he was alive’s ashes back.

Of course, this is where we meet Kirsten Dunst.  Now having a vague Wikipedia understanding of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I was on guard.  And man, were they right.  And I didn’t care. Bravo, Cameron.  She exists in this film as a purely fantastical concoction of a guy’s ideal girl.  Let’s analyze briefly.  So Kirsten is a flight attendant, Claire.  We meet her as Bloom is flying back to Kentucky.  She initially pursues him, almost overpursuing him, giving him her phone number, following him off the plane, shouting after him to remember how to get to Elizabethtown.  Wait, okay, scratch almost. Let’s make it blatant overpursuing him.  But then, she quickly backs off and Bloom has a chance to gather himself and call her on his own terms, in his time of need.  After dozing off and some humorous attempts at call-holding (2005), they end up talking for hours throughout the night on the phone.  Chatting about life, their awkward yet funny surroundings, family & friends neither have met.  And then they cap it off by meeting and watching the sun rise.  Haha, here Crowe actually cuts through his own cheese when Claire remarks, “We peaked on the phone”.  So, montages ensue, during which I almost threw my remote at the TV when I saw she packed Ryan Adams’s album Love Is Hell in her suitcase (One of my favorites). Cameron, how dare you insinuate there’s some girl that actually enjoys that album? (They play a song off it towards the end of the movie) There’s some vague resemblance of a plot/problem of cremation vs. burial, and 2 generations of fathers and sons and how to raise a kid.  It was pretty much cobbled together.  You were just waiting for Claire to come back into the movie.   So they hem and haw at each other a bit, and then she decides that they aren’t meant for each other.  Something about them being ‘substitute’ people.  Don’t ask me. And you think that’s that.  Honestly, I thought this was how the movie was going to end.  Then it would have been very 500 Days of Summer – esque.  But then … oh man, Cameron just ruins it for you.  So rather than take a plane back to Oregon to return to the no job, no money, and no possession life  (why go back?) , Bloom decides to take that road trip he’s always meant to take with his Dad (now just ashes).   Rather, Claire gives him this “map” that’s supposed to guide him back across the country, like a scrapbook, with a ton of mix CDs, pictures, notes, maps, etc.  And the route ultimately led him back to her.  Holy crap.  This movie would have ruined me if I had seen it in 2005.  My question is, why would girls like this movie? Is it honestly just for Bloom’s looks?  I mean, he has nothing to add to any conversation, his acting sucks (bears repeating) and Claire does it all while Bloom is bitching and moaning about his shoe career. He doesn’t shed a tear for the old man until he’s on the road trip and this seems like it’s more Claire’s hand in things than being sad about his Dad. I mean they resort to flashbacks when he was a kid.  Ugh.

All in all,  a totally unrealistic view into women, which frankly I couldn’t get enough of.  She’s totally eccentric, cocky/confident, cute, and exists purely to remove Bloom from his life’s troubles.  And wrapping this up, I can hear them banging again. ….Sigh.

Underrated Actors:  Nice turn by Parks And Rec alum Paul Schneider and Loudon Wainwright as Bloom’s cousin and uncle, respectively.  They tried, but ultimately failed, at bringing the film some semblance of an actual familial or love relationship.


Alien

1979

directed by: Ridley Scott

Oof.  This is a tough one.  Okay, so the Alien franchise is something every child of the 80’s has just assumed was always there.  The Alien character is so ubiquitous that walk up to anyone, they’ll know about the spit-double-head/mouth-shape thing.  But ask them the plot of any of these movies, and you’ll by and large get mumbles.  (I know I’m treading on dangerous water here for the fanboys of such a franchise, but then again, …they’re Alien fanboys.)  Moving on, you have Ridley Scott.  Gladiator, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster (“My man”).  The man has made some films.  And yet, I couldn’t tell you the plot of Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, or Prometheus. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he only directed the titular one and Prometheus.  So it’ll be fascinating to do a review, watch one , review, watch, etc.  Here are my preconceptions about the series:

Alien: They’re all eating and the Alien dude pops out of chest

Aliens: Paul Reiser? and Little girl.  And lots of explosions. And Paul Reiser? And the little girl runs around air shafts

Alien 3:  …

Alien: Resurrection: Winona Ryder.  And … uh, I think I’ve seen most of this one? Like they’re all trying to get to the escape pods and an Alien crawls into one with them and they gone.

So there you have it. Let’s dive into Alien.

I enjoyed the first 20 minutes or so of this film.  Loved the mood, loved the antiquated ship controls/computers, loved the darkness of it.  The pacing was great too, and yet with a movie like Alien, oh man, you know it’s all about to just go to hell.  As soon as they all wake up and land on this planet/asteroid thing, this … this is where the questions start.  I mean I knew I was going to have some, but things got out of control in a hurry.  Where did this crashed ship come from? What the hell is that alien skeleton thing? It’s obvious he’s been ‘Aliened up’ but is that like the controls to the ship or some space gun or what? How long have the eggs been there?  Do they go bad? What’s with the mist/laser thing? Are there still eggs being laid? Our man in the situation, curious as he is, gets one of the hatchlings stuck on him. Through the glass of his helmet. Ouch, I guess I’ll save my questions for later, Ridley.  They haul him back to the ship, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver…duh) protests to him being brought back onboard.  I’m sensing a theme building.  We also begin to doubt this Ash character.  I never trusted the guy in Fifth Element. No use starting now.  So the dude gets his face sucked on for a while, eggs or a baby or whatever go into his stomach, and out pops an Alien.  Now this makes … little sense.  I mean you’ve already got the eggs. You’ve got the scorpion/hand of god thing.  Why the need for more implants?  Meh.  Anyways good scene as mentioned above where it pops out. Then Ash, you son of a bitch, tells everyone to cool it and lets it get away.  Great idea.  So I’m like no biggie, he’s like a foot tall, just squash his ass before he eats or goes through puberty.  Whoops, too late. 5 minutes later (literally),it sheds the skin of the foot tall creature and IS NOW A FULL GROWN ALIEN.  Whooie, boy must have taking his vitamins and steroids and growth hormones.  So everyone gets picked off one by one, except for the end, where my favorite character (Parker aka the villain from Live and Let Die) ends up hesitating to finish off the Alien because of the useless chick (not Ripley) in the movie.  It was so heartbreaking seeing him go.  Anyways, this led to more questions.  We find out that a couple of the dudes haven’t been killed, but have become some sort of pod people, ala…. the pod people.   Interesting.  Suffice to leave it at a simple question…Why?  Oh yeah, Ash was an ANDROID, womp womp, and had orders to keep the Alien alive.  He also had Tauntaun innards.  I was expecting one of them to just be like, “And I thought he smelled bad … on the outside”.  That would have made this my favorite movie ever.  Ripley ends up escaping, after offing the Alien on the shuttle, and is presumedly safe and sound on her way back to Earth. Roll credits.  So why is there a sequel? …Oh yeah, all those unanswered questions.  Too bad Ridley had enough for 33 years.

Okay okay, now to address the whole eroticism/rape/sexual overtones of this movie.  Holy crap, at points its very subtle, but then at the end it gets to be a little ridiculous.  I mean Ripley, thinking she’s safe and all, starts taking off all her clothes to prance around in her underwear, and then all the guys in the movie theater are like … ‘oh man, 2 hours of mouth rape, male impregnation, penis mouth thing with acid was really getting me down, here’s a little Sigourney time’ and then BOOM ALIEN’S BACK Y’ALL! This was probably the funniest part of the film.

Now, can someone explain to me the point of the damn cat?

Underrated Actors: Yaphet Kotto as Parker, and …eh what the hell, Ian Holm as Ash, the creepy villainous Android.


September Affair

1950

directed by: William Dieterle

Well, well, well. Another Joan Fontaine flick.  I watched this the other night on Netflix, and before I go any further, a couple of notes.  Yes, I found this searching “Joan Fontaine”.  Yes, this is the earliest movie they have starring her on Netflix.  Yes I’m currently in my 1-month free trial, and yes I’ll try to watch as many films as possible before the close of the month’s time.  That and Breaking Bad.  Damn, that’s a fine show.  Anyways, where was I? Ah, yes.  September Affair.

Now it’s a supreme bummer that this movie was titled thusly.  Let’s look at other similar movie titles.  An Affair to Remember, Love Affair, Brief Encounter, XYZ Affair, The Thomas Crown Affair, well you get the picture.  None of these ended well, especially the XYZ Affair, which drove John Adams out of office (not true).  So it’s no surprise that I wanted September Affair to end differently.  I mean, surely it couldn’t just be a film about an affair in September?

September Affair begins in Rome, or Florence, or Naples, Capri or somewhere in Italy. I had trouble keeping track of the tourism plug that was the first act of the movie.  We meet Joe Cotten, an unhappy married rich Manhattan-ite about to return back to New York to his unhappy family.  But, the man is an engineer.  So, I definitely fell for him.  Hah, anywho, Joan plays Manina, not to be confused with soon-to-be-rebooted-played-by-Jessica-Biel-in-Total-Recall Melina.  So Manina is a pianist and sort of free-spirit, and I took it as she was kind of just roped into this whole situation of meeting a married man on the flight back to America.  So pretty simple stuff.  They hit it off on the plane, but then there’s some engine trouble and the plane has to land in … Naples, I believe.  So rather than wait for the delay to fix the plane, they both hitch a ride into town, sightseeing montage ensues, and they end up in this romantic Italian restaurant overlooking Naples.  Pretty textbook seduction, Joe.  They end up missing their flight (go figure), and then get this,  EVERYONE DIES ON THE PLANE!  Whammy.  So rather than reflect on their mortality, they say “F it”, and start a new life together in Florence (I think).  Problem is (well, there a ton of problems with this plan) they’re both legally presumed dead, and you can’t get by on your good looks, even in Italy.  In a twisted, brilliant, never fully explained way, Joe pre-dates a check two days before the crash (illegal) to Manina’s piano teacher as charity (also illegal) and then the piano teacher gives the money back to Joe (more illegal).  So, basically Joe swindles his still living wife and son out of money so he can pay for a luxury mansion/villa with Joan Fontaine.  I mean, which isn’t to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing.  The wife and kid come to visit.  The affair falls apart. The end? Yeah, pretty much, except get this.  Joan moves to South America at the end.  What?   Did I miss something?  Maybe they’ve got a good piano scene down in Rio.

Best scene was them on a raft in a lake and Joan had a bikini on.  Too bad it was only like a minute long scene though. Sigh…

Underrated Actors: meh, no one.


Paths of Glory

1957

directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Ah, a picture after my own heart.  In other words, a WWI film.  However, it seems strange that Kubrick, in 1957, would make a movie, not about a war that ended < 15 years prior, but rather one that ended almost 40 years prior.  It’s definitely a case of distancing yourself from public sentiment regarding the conflict, and coming at it from a filmmaker’s perspective who is trying to tell us his opinion of the subject.  Or to try and tell a story, perhaps an unpopular or controversial one, without having everyone hate you.

Which is why he chose WWI.

Anyways, if you couldn’t gather already, Paths of Glory, (hell yeah! America!), is an anti-war film.  Puzzling, though, is that all characters, I think, are supposed to be in the French army, yet all speak perfect English.  So it’s one of those films (insert groan here).  Now I’m all for authenticity, but again, rather than try to dramatize the exploits of the US Army’s involvement in WWI (which is the vast minority of time/casualties) he focuses instead on a generic French army in a generic period of time of trench warfare.

Plot-wise it’s fairly straightforward.  Crazy General guy orders impossible attack on German hill.  Chain of command quandaries and hesitations lead to the company being accused of cowardice.  Three dudes get picked at “random” to be executed as  a result.  Most of the movie (plot-wise) takes place in the time period of post-attack/pre-execution.  Good turns by Kirk Douglas as the level-headed, grunt-loving Lieutenant / Lawyer , and each of the condemned men.

So what’s the movie overall about? I’d say he tries to go after the absurd notion of giving absolute power to men to not only order men to their deaths on the battlefront, but also to the gallows as a result of their mistakes.  Also, it’s to beat down any semblance of trying to say that order and righteousness are going to win the day.  Which maybe is a bit on the grim side of opinion, but the movie doesn’t really have any high notes.  And the ending was great too.  They capture a German girl (Who later married Kubrick??), and make her sing (through tears) to the crowd of troops gathered at a bar.  Then, Kirk receives the order that they’re going back to the front, but let’s the guys continue their drinking and soaking in the presence of the girl for a bit longer.  Heavy stuff.

Underrated Actors: Timothy Carey as one of the 3 condemned men.  TOTALLY a Kubrick Actor.