Breakthrough

1950

directed by: Lewis Seiler

First of two war movie reviews today, hopefully.  Watched this one over Memorial Day weekend, and lately, oof I’ve been getting behind with these reviews.  Slow and steady, but man I’ve got to get on the ball.

Anyway, Breakthrough details the U.S. invasion of Normandy during WWII.  It’s mostly a feel good piece about the army, but with some great character emotion and arcs.  Made 5 years after the war’s conclusion, I suspect it’s one of the first films concerning D-Day and the 2nd World War in general.  … Well, post-war movies at least.

That being said, there’s a bit of dramatization with the actual landing, the troops, and the result.   The invasion itself fails to conjur the same sort of gut-wrenching Saving Private Ryan does, but given the latter movie’s release 40 some odd years later,  still provides some eery similarities.  The troops still load up onto the PT boats from the transport ships, looking frightened as hell; some vomit; many are gunned down on the beach; and there’s still the same frantic chaos of making the way up the beach to the machine gun outposts.  There’s also a great deal more sea/battleship involvement in terms of firepower.    Once safely on the beach, the movie turns gears into basically a lamentation of the futility of roadside-ditch warfare that defined the early French front.   Guys are picked off never having seen the enemy, some survive, some don’t.  The troops finally come to occupy a French town, where the enemy has retreated out of (assumedly), but there still lurks a Pro-German townswoman who snipes one of the most likable characters in the film.  The film closes out with the Sgt. asking out a foxy female officer.  Or at least that’s all I remember at the end.  Oh, and they do the whole, ‘everyone moves up a rank and let’s make the same jokes when we were the old ranks to the new guys’, thing.

Oh, and most of this film uses actual WWII-stock footage (both American and German) intermingled with the actors.   Which at the time, is pretty cool the Army let them use.

Underrated Actors: Frank Lovejoy as the cool Sergeant


Sullivan’s Travels

1941

directed by: Preston Sturges

Tonight is going to be a long night.  Lot to catch up on.  Topkapi (previous post) was probably watched a couple months ago, and never ended up finishing the write-up.  My fault.

Anyways here we go.  Sullivan’s Travels (SEE?! ITS LIKE GULLIVER’S TRAVELS) (more heavyhandedness to come)  is the story of a rich arrogant director type (played by McCrea) and his search to make a film about bums, tramps, hobos, etc.  The last time we saw McCrea, he was playing a rich arrogant foreign correspondent, so he’s got some background.  I liked him better in this overall, but not by much.  The guy just doesn’t hit the right buttons for me.  Anywho, this director… Sullivan, has a real nice , and I mean real nice, house and a pool and a butler and a valet (comic relief).  He’s also got a posse at the studio (more comic relief) watching out for his every move.  He tries escaping from them early on to really be on his own to bind with the poor common man, but ends up in the company of Ms. Lake

Fox.  Like total blonde babe, but in a super non-typical Hollywood sense, but super film noir / Kim Basinger LA-confidential (probably based on her appearance) sense.  The wavy blonde bangs. Gets you every time.  Couldn’t act much.  Eh, easy on the eyes.  And oh yeah, she even dresses up as a hobo as well for part of this.  Which makes her somehow more attractive? In some weird way only I would come up with.

So yada yada yada, he ends up really doing good things undercover, living amongst the bums, and at this point it feels like the film is going to wrap up. Alas, this is where the movie goes into like Act 8 and the producers were like hey we’ve gone this far, how about some more scenes and a new storyline?  And so we get to watch Sullivan beaten , Sullivan on a train, a cop beaten by Sullivan (for some reason), Sullivan sentenced to work on a chain gang (for some reason) , and then Sullivan realizing …he’s Sullivan and fantastically rich and so he doesn’t have to work on the chain gang anymore … and then writes a book/screenplay.  Called … You guessed it… O Brother, Where Art Thou? (LIKE THE COEN BROTHERS MOVIE?!) … and then the movie ends.  Odd.

Great/unsettling scene at the Southern Baptist all-black church where the chain gang goes and watches a Mickey Mouse/Pluto cartoon.  In the movie.  And there’s this montage of laughter.  Which was cool they showed a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Underrated Actors: one of the posse of McCrea and of course Veronica Lake


Topkapi

1964

directed by: Jules Dassin

Oscars: Best Supporting Actor – Peter Ustinov

Picked this up over the weekend.  Decent heist movie.  Let’s go into it.

So this starts out on a massive LSD trip with weird colors, weird dialog, and a weird looking blonde foreign (older) chick.  And I thought to myself, ‘oh no, Mike, what kind of movie did you get? Some sort of Euro-Mod-Hippie incoherent mess of a movie.’  But then the titles roll, and no mention of any of this is made again. Or so it seemed for me.

So this move plays out (broadly) as a museum heist.  Long-time criminals (played by older blonde foreign chick & a dead ringer for the villain in The Mask) wait… I always get mixed up on what the villain from The Mask looks like… Ok, I’m back, nope not him.    AH HA! The villain from License to Kill.  And the Goonies. And to a certain extent, Die Hard…. well he played the FBI agent. Sorry about that, okay so these two basically hire a bunch of rag-tag amateurs to help burgle this knife from a Turkish … Sultan…Emperor…Tsar…Dude.  Enter Peter Ustinov as the bumbling grifter who gets in way over his head and is quickly apprehended by the Turkish Secret Police.  This is where the movie gets really good.  Because it seemed like 20 minutes in, he gets caught , and welp, that’s all she wrote.  But he, as Catherine Zeta Jones did in Entrapment, is (everyone all together) “playing both sides”.

Hijnks ensue.  It’s mostly a “will they (the secret police) find out? / will the bandits get away with it?”  .  Not many places to go at the end , plot-wise.

Beautiful cinescapes of Istanbul in the 60’s though.  Worth checking out for Pete Ustinov’s performance and fans of heist movies (Who isnt?) and fans of Turkey/Greece.

Oh and Mission Impossible totally rips off the ‘dangling Tom Cruise from above and lowering him because he can’t touch the floor’ from this movie.

Underrated Actors: Ustinov won the Academy Award (must have been a slow Oscars year), Robert Morley as the old British guy that made toys… nah, not really.

 

 


Athena

1954

directed by: Richard Thorpe

Ah, back to familiar turf.  Debbie movie #12 of 37.  Well, Ladies and Gentleman, I think we’ve found Debbie’s peak.  Because The Tender Trap (see earlier review) was made a year later and the only movie between this and Athena was Hit the Deck, which was more of an ensemble musical movie, I think it’s safe to make the assumption we’ve found the apex.  So yes, it’s safe to assume that I enjoyed this movie.   Rather, I enjoyed Debbie’s performance in this, mainly because she doesn’t actually play the titular character Athena and isn’t the main focus of the film.  Which I kind of actually enjoyed.  Because plot wise, this movie was on thin ice the entire time; but more on that later.

Okay, so let’s run run run through it.  Athena is one of 6, err, 7 sisters who live with and are under the tutelage of their grandparents.  What happened to the parents? Never appeared nor mentioned.  Minor unnerving point about the movie, but still.  Okay, so the movie starts out, after a weird theater/TV stage musical number with Vic Damone, as a gardening movie! and I’m like this is going to be the best movie ever! but it was only a scene to get Athena (Jane Powell) and Adam (Edmund Purdom) to meet.  I’ve never yet met anyone at a nursery. But it’s nice to know it happens, well, at least it happens in the movies.  Probably should include that scene in the screenplay I’m never going to write.  Now Jane Powell was good in this, good singer, good emotions, but more a girl for a man who prefers blondes.  Debbie doesn’t arrive til about 20 minutes in.  But they set up her first scene perfectly, and from the start, it’s assumed she’s going to be the love interest for Vic.  I liked their pairing, it worked, (He was 26, and she was 22).  Hey, I’m 26 ! Alright, I’ll stop throwing myself into this movie.

So plot wise, it’s pretty bizarre, at least for the 50’s I’m sure.  Basically the grandparents are like Greek hippie/vegan/yoga/exercise nuts before there was really such a thing. So everyone they come into contact with thinks they’re absolutely bizarre.  When ironically, they would fit right into LA today.   I don’t want to make it sound like this was a bad thing, because they were honestly just a genuinely nice carefree “family”, and really tried to hammer out everyone else in the movie as snobs.  Speaking of which, the straight-laced Adam (who is basically a Cary Grant knock-off) is a lawyer with political aspirations.  He’s got the hot, dull fiance.  He’s got the overtly racist caricature Japanese butler.  And I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, but oh what the hell.  He throws it all away and lives happily ever after with Athena!  Didn’t see that coming, did we?   Debbie shines in the scenes she’s in, definitely taking them away from anyone else.  Great dresses; great outfits; great singing; great, great, great.

Oh and there’s a Mr. Universe pageant in it for some reason.

Underrated Actors:  Vic Damone as Johnny Nyle.   One last thing, there’s absolutely no reason for this guy to be in the movie.  None of his dialogue or plot points make sense or get resolved.  Just a blatant excuse for him to sing in a movie.  The man made gold records.


Big Fish

2003

directed by: Tim Burton

Well, a big brief departure from the usual fare.  Recently, I was asked by a friend why I enjoyed this movie, even to this day.  This interlogue (not a real word) went something like: “Can I say something to you Frank?” “Ty,… Frank” “You’ve been acting psychotic lately. What the hell? Why?” “Well I’ve been a little under strain, I’ve got to play Smails in the tournament….” Oh wait, that’s from Caddyshack.  Anyway, it’s not a particularly acclaimed film, and judging by the section partitioned for this film during the recent Tim Burton Exhibit at LACMA, not particularly well liked among Burton’s work.

But I disagree.  At the point of my life when I first saw this film in the theaters,  I was… 17. Maybe a fresh 18.  And that December – January 2003 – 2004 was a very tumultuous time in my life.  Sometime late in January would be my first kiss.  Embarrassingly enough.  I was graduating high school in 5 months. Anyways, setting up the stage.

Okay, so let’s start with the basics.  Elfman score.  Burton directorial work.  Elfman was nominated for an Oscar for this score, and considering Elfman has done the score for every single Burton movie minus Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd (which already had one) and this is the ONLY nomination Elfman has working on a Burton film.  Add to that the fact that 2003 was also the year Return of the King ran rampant through the Oscars, kind of like those green ghost dudes in … the Return of the King.    But far more importantly, I believe this to be Elfman’s finest work and often underlooked and underappreciated.  Kind of like Sabrina for John Williams (though he was nominated for this). Or Legends of the Fall for Horner (though he did win the Golden Globe for it).    Anyways, it’s a damn good score.  And has that Burton-y devilishly good color palette and cinematography.

Moving on…. Ewan McGregor.  Now up until this film, I had probably seen Ewan in two movies (like most people), namely (in a Star Wars nerd voice) The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.   Okay okay okay, he was in Black Hawk Down, but for like 5 minutes. And everyone looked and acted the same in that movie.  Sorry, hipster doofuses, it would probably be another year or two before I caught Trainspotting.  I was a kid in the suburbs.  I didn’t need dead babies and heroin thrown in my face.  (Not even going to mention the atrocity that was Moulin Rouge…My sister would not shut up about watching that movie/soundtrack over and over and over and over)  So anyways, this was like the first time where you got to see Ewan’s acting chops.  The direct antithesis of Obi Wan.  He was just a carefree honest likable nice guy.  And I definitely wanted to and did relate to him.  So there.

Let’s get a couple ancillary sweet cameo, bit roles out of the way.  Steve Buscemi.  Danny DeVito.  Robert Guillaume (of Sports Night and Half-Life 2) (Thank God that man is still alive).  Roy from the Office. and Miley Friggin Cyrus (Miley Cyrus is in this? I’ve got to watch it again to make sure….)

Okay, so nuts and bolts.  Now Big Fish plays out like a father-son bonding movie, but also like a old man’s take a look at his life story.  So already, there’s this threaded weaving going on with the son in present day, the father present day, and the father in the past (Ewan).  And it’s all, albeit tenuously, held together by this big ol’ catfish.  Now, Ewan’s story starts out like he’s a big fish (see what I did there) in a small pond.  So he wants to move off to the city because he’s outgrown his small town blues.  But rather than him ever making it to a big city, the movie instead decides that would be super lame if it’s just him in a big city working for the weekend or whatever, and instead journeys out into the fantastical.  Both as the impetus to get him out of his small town and along his way.  And this where the tall tales really take force.  There were a few here and there in his childhood, but now it’s apparent that in the back of your mind while you’re watching it, you’re in the son’s shoes.  Unbelieving.  Skeptical.  But as the movie goes on, you almost forget about the whimsical circumstances Ed Bloom is getting himself into, and start to identify and care about the man.  Feel for him, fight for him, but at the same time knowing what we know from the start.  He marries the girl.  They have their son.  It’s going to work out.  This, pretty brilliantly, is echoed by Bloom throughout the film by his interaction with the witch and knowing how he’s going to die.  Because that’s one of the main points and the ultimate conclusion/nexus of the movie.  We all must live our lives assuming that we aren’t going to die the next day/hour/minute.  We have to, otherwise we would go nuts looking over our shoulder, tying up loose ends, or waiting for the end.  And it’s only when Ed Bloom is an old man and sick, that he comes to terms with his own mortality, having overlooked it his entire life.

Now for the yucky love parts.  Okay, so I just want to say, everything from the circus scene up to and including the daffodils was pure cinematic gold.  So Ewan has just brought the Giant dude, (whose thematic element I’m not even going to touch in this review), to the circus to make his claim and he happens upon a young blonde Alison Lohman type.  Time stops.  Literally.  In a Burton-esque elegance of course.  He then has to spend day and night , month after month, toiling away working for DeVito at the circus to just learn snippets about her.  DeVito: “Her favorite flower is daffodils” Bloom: “…Daffodils”  (smiles)  &  DeVito:   “She likes music” Bloom: “Music.  She likes music” (smiles)  So DeVito eventually tells him where to find her, after capstoning his 3 year (3 YEARS for a girl) experience at the circus by battling DeVito, who turns out to be a werewolf.  For some reason.   So at first he just flat out tells her he loves her, something appealing to me at 18, and reminiscent of earlier Hollywood movie romance.  Turns out she’s engaged to Roy from the Office, though.  All the good ones are taken, though you can’t give up without a fight.  Or something.  Then the man does something probably highly illegal, highly improbable, highly expensive, and highly time-consuming.  He plants an entire field of bloomin’ daffodils outside her sorority house.  Genius move.  This of course gets him beat up by Roy from the Office, but gets him the girl.  BUT THEN HE GETS SHIPPED OFF TO KOREA.  Great twist and great reunion scene when he gets back while she’s doing the laundry.

Okay heading home now, the movie finishes up by the son tying up loose ends in his father’s story, only to realize that his father was a great man, that he overanalyzed his relationship with him, and it turns out having the Ed Bloom twist on life and stories about your life can really lead you down a pretty awesome path.   It comes full circle, wraps up the intertwined storylines nicely, and leaves with the son passing on his father’s stories to his son.  It mixed the fantastical and reality better than say, The Princess Bride, which was more of a fantasy which happened to have been read during a movie, and also Forrest Gump, which was more focused on the socio-political landscape and reality more than fantasy.  And usually in the case of movies like Big Fish, fantasy isn’t used as a mere escape or flashy visuals, like the aforementioned Star Wars or LOTR but rather to augment the internal and external personal conflicts within the characters.  And to provide a damn good moviewatching experience.

So … yeah. I like Big Fish.

 


Foreign Correspondent

1941

directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Are we developing a theme for Hitchcock movies? Nah, but what of it? : ) Anyways, this is the other 1941 Hitchcock film, mentioned in the Rebecca post.  I think.  And if the picture shows up big enough, then you can see that George Sanders is in it. Yay! George Sanders! He’s a good man.

This film is basically a propaganda film for the west.  To keep your chin up about the war.  And to introduce…err.. keep up to date  American audiences to the war.   Joel McCrea stars as the titular foreign correspondent, though I didn’t really care for him.   Laraine Day though was a super babe.  Mrs. Brooklyn Dodgers.  or Mrs.  New York Giants. … no it was Mrs. Brooklyn Dodgers.  She was married to the manager of the team.  And now I’m going to go look this up and make sure I’m right about that.   A rare baseball – Hollywood crossover.  And it was New York Giants.   Okay anyways.

Plot wise, it’s pretty solid for the first Act and a half.  Some mistaken identity, body doubles, vague morality, villians masked as heroes, heroes masked as villians.  Overall, some textbook action, mystery, and suspense stuff.  Then, there’s  the Plane Crash.  Totally out of left field, and totally worth seeing it just for this.  I mean, it’s obvious it’s on a set , but it’s still totally cool how they film it and destroy/flood the plane.

A solid Hitchcock film, Sanders is exemplary.  Laraine Day is a fox, and Nazis are bad.

Underrated Actors: Obviously the two aforementioned.


Network

1976

directed by: Sidney Lumet

Oscars: Best Actor – Peter Finch; Best Actress – Faye Dunaway; Best Supporting Actress – Beatrice Straight; Best Original Screenplay

Okay, my last “recent” film for a while.  I promise.  Sort of.  Now on first glance, you’re like wow, that’s a lot of Oscars.  Especially a lot of Acting Oscars.  And you’d be right.  In fact, I’d say it’s too many.  1976 must have been a down year for movies. … Hmm, let’s check Best Picture nominees,  ech, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, and Rocky won. …So yeah. This makes more sense.  But still, Ned Beatty got a nomination for best Supporting Actor for this movie for playing … Arthur Jensen.  I don’t even remember seeing an Arthur Jensen … I mean he was mentioned.  But maybe it was a little too fast paced for me to realize who everyone was.  Hell, the two main guys looked alike to me.  Not Robert Duvall.  Obviously.  And the chick who won Best Supporting Actress? She was in the movie for maybe like … 5 minutes at best and 2 or 3 scenes.  Had 1 rant.  More on rants later.   Well,  to be fair, Best Supporting Actress is kind of Sham.  Okay a big sham.  Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique (I feel dirty just typing that), Octavia Spencer, Angelina Jolie, Tilda Swinton (in Michael Clayton … a terrible film)   … Shudder.    I mean really, Renee Zellweger?

Anyways, where was I? Oh that’s right, I was demonstrating the point of Network.  It’s a film about rants. Basically, Dennis Miller but … not funny at all.  I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed Peter Finch’s rants.  (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more”)   He was good.  He deserved his award.  However, he wasn’t the main focus of the film.  Rather, it was more about William Holden and Faye Dunaway.  Now, disclaimer, I don’t really care for Faye Dunaway.  She’s got too much Katherine Hepburn and not enough Audrey.  Other notable actresses like this: Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman etc. minus her being American… I think… (confirmed, and oh wow. She’s had some work done).

Anyways, this film is a classic.  I guess.  It’s got its moments with Finch.  And the seeds are there for all current political/news fiction drama movies/TV series.  And I like Robert Duvall (not only because we share a birthday) .  But in the end, it really didn’t do that much for me.

Underrated Actors:  I guess Robert Duvall.