Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie Meme for You and Me but mostly...Me

"Shut up and deal."

The ever-delightful Rachel at Girl With the White Parasol has grown ever-deservedly more popular, reaching the enviable 50-follower mark. She's been tremendously supportive of my own blog and I'm thrilled she's been getting more blogosphere love lately! To celebrate, she's started a  New Year's Movie Meme, which I'm...gonna do, basically.

And here it is!

1. What is your all-time favorite Grace Kelly costume?

I hate to be what's called on the fancy-pants internets a "sheep", since I'm sure many are going to pick this one, but you really can't beat the first number she wears in Rear Window.

Scan compliments of Doctor Macro

This Edith Head piece is not only my favorite Grace Kelly dress or favorite movie dress ever, but my favorite dress, period. I would wear that thing every which way: to the movies, a fancy restaurant, eating cheetos in bed....

And this is why I can't have nice things.

2. What classic film would you nominate for a remake?

I've expressed my disappointment in the 1967 version and speculated about what a '40s cast would have been like here, but I also wouldn't mind a modern take on Far From the Madding Crowd. Whether made at Merchant-Ivory or Miramax, whatever, if in the right hands it could be great (does Merchant-Ivory still make films? God, I suck at film buffing sometimes). So long as Colin Firth plays Boldwood, I'm down.

I really don't know who could play Bathsheba, though. I'm not seeing Gemma Arterton. I love Catherine Zeta-Jones, but you need someone more naive. Who's a striking brunette Brit in her early twenties who could do it these days?

3. Name your favorite femme fatale.

At first I was vacillating back and forth between Gene and Veronica, but Lauren Bacall's autobiography is basically what started me on the genre. So Baby gets it.

Again, compliments of Doctor Macro. I love this site. Love.

Although technically, does she really count as a "femme fatale?" I mean, she's got the smoky noir vibe down natch, but she's almost always revealed to be the palsy dame with a heart of gold. Still, you can't beat her style. And I will always refuse to believe she's about five years younger than I am in that picture.

4. Name the best movie with the word "heaven" in its title.

Even though I haven't seen it the whole way through yet (my life is riddled with half-finished books and movies, the fate that befalls those with attention spans of gnats), but I'll still give the nod to the forebodingly euphoric Heavenly Creatures from 1994.

Just in case Titanic makes you forget Kate Winslet can act, or Lord of the Rings makes you forget Peter Jackson can direct anything but blockbuster epics, see this. Disturbing, erotic, touching, beautiful, and terrifying.

Plus, it introduced me to Mario Lanza's "Donkey Serenade."

That's it, I'm watching the rest of this movie tonight. It's on Instant View, and there's no freaking excuse.

5. Describe the worst performance by a child actor that you’ve ever seen (since Laura gave me the idea).

Durr hee, kindly Rachel refers to my post, yup! The absolute worst? Well, I almost put Kenny from Gamera, but on reflection, that might have more to do with the awful Sandy Frank dubbing than anything else ("Gamera has a good haht!). And also, people don't mean to be obnoxious, it's just that they're all screwed up inside.

So I'll go instead with the twerpy, dimply, monstrous little shrub from the otherwise fascinating 1932 pre-code flick Three on a Match: Buster Phelps as Robert Kirkwood, Jr.

There's nothing that wasn't wretched about him: his constipated little voice screeching away, the urpy expressions, and if you're gonna cast Warren William in your movie, play up his stiff coldness, don't try to make him act like a loving father--not to this imp from hell. I saw this movie after reading FlickChick's apt write-up over at A Person in the Dark. She warned me of Phelps. Wise woman.

But hey, at least an evil Humphrey Bogart gets to menace him a little. Heh heh.

6. Who gets your vote for most tragic movie monster?

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: The Mummy. He's got the lost love, the tortured burying alive scene (which in the Hammer version involved getting his tongue cut out), and then walking around decaying and repulsive to the very vision of the woman he done got tortured for. If those aren't the makings of an epic blues song, what is?

"When you lose your lover you also lose your heart, and my dear, that's when your teardrops will start...."

Also very close in the running were both Andre Delambre and Seth Brundle from the two versions of The Fly now that I've see both, the ever bumbling, well-meaning Frankenstein Monster, and King Kong. 

Poor little guys. Just because they're different!

7. What is the one Western that you would recommend to anybody?

Gah! Westerns. Um. John Ford's 1960 Sergeant Rutledge, I guess. Not because it's a good movie (which it isn't), but Ford combines a lot of interesting elements that you might not expect from a Western: race issues, sexual obsession, a murder mystery, courtroom drama. None of those are particularly well done, what with Woody Strode's titular African-American sergeant used more as a silently suffering symbol than an active presence in the movie, and Billie Burke's tone-deaf comedic performance. But fascinating, nonetheless.

8. Who is your ideal movie-viewing partner?

Someone with my dad's infectious laugh and knowledge of movie trivia, my mom's empathy for characters, my squeamishness (so they don't make fun of me), and someone with a calming aura if scenes get too tense.

9. Has a film ever made you want to change your life? If so, what was the film?

Toni Morrison books have, but I don't know about any particular movies--maybe if I ever saw the film version of Morrison's Beloved, that'd be it.

(Okay, I might have secretly toyed with the secret idea of becoming an FBI agent after watching Silence of the Lambs when I was younger. But deep down, I knew I'd never be able to do a pull-up, much less shoot a maniac wearing women's skin in a pitch-black basement).

10. Think of one performer that you truly love. Now think of one scene/movie/performance of theirs that is too uncomfortable for you to watch.

When Groucho is forced to be genuinely kind to Kitty Carlisle in A Night at the Opera. You know the scene in her cabin where she's crying and he gives her the note from Allan Jones and she actually...hugs him? I plug my ears and turn away every time.

Speaking of which....

11. On the flip side, think of one really good scene/performance/movie from a performer that you truly loathe.  

The smarmy Allan Jones does a good job of disappearing into his beard and being funny with the rest of the lads when they arrive in America in A Night at the Opera, so bully for him, I guess

That one scene is almost enough to redeem that close-up of his face singing "Alone" on the dock. Granted, he's not as funny as Harpo with the glass of water. But he doesn't embarrass himself, I guess is what I'm saying.

12. And finally, since it will be New Year's soon, do you have any movie or blogging-related resolutions for 2012?

Just watch more movies. I've been crazy busy this year, and too exhausted to fully commit to watching all the flicks I should. And the more exposed I am to fabulous blogs such as Rachel's, I realize how far behind I am on a lot of classics.

I haven't seen National Velvet yet! What's wrong with me?!

P.S. I don't know how to change the font in blogger, so that's why when I copy and pasted Rachel's questions over, sometimes my font jumps to her style and then back to mine. Um, sorry for the disorientedness. Blame Blogger for confusing the weak-minded. Yeah, not my fault AT ALL.

P.P.S. Never mind. I totally figured it out. I'm on top of things.

P.P.P.S. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Fly, 1958

I sort of loved this movie. It had its flaws, but was overall unexpectedly touching, even heartbreaking. Directed by Kurt Neumann in 1958, the movie was a huge hit, and spawned sequels and the famous remake in 1986 directed by David Cronenberg.

As for this version, I'll first focus on the things I liked, then look at--no, you can't make me say it, you can't oh stop please don't make me nuuhhhhhh--the flies in the ointment. I feel so dirty....

Things I loved:

Vincent Price as the doomed man-fly's brother, Francois Delambre. Similar to his role in The Last Man On Earth, Price for all his distinctly and charmingly supercilious tones and elegance plays an honest, desperate man with a believable warmth that grounds the movie. As much as I've always loved him, and given my predilection toward haughty sophisticates, I've never quite crushed on Vincent (possibly because he's been parodied ad nauseum), but this is the closest I've come to getting all infatuated with our dear Vince. There's something about these haughty sophisticates playing well against type that gets at me. It's very much why Gordon Zellaby in Village of the Damned remains my favorite George Sanders role.

Even if you're banking on a gimmick like a giant man-fly, your movie's ever only as likable as your characters. Which leads me to the next part of the movie I liked: the man-fly's wife Helene, played by the lovely and capable Patricia Owens.

Though brand me a skeptic if you must, I don't think she's a natural redhead.

What's a refreshing surprise, particularly for this genre, is that the majority of the screentime goes to Helene. We see the events through her eyes, her flashback. After an extended period in the present at the beginning of the movie, we witness what drove her to (durr, SPOILER) kill her husband with a gigantic metal press...dealy...thing (you know, that thing? It's metal and crushes things? You know, the thing!). 

Owens as Helene is not only likable, but sidesteps most of the usual tropes of the helpless heroine. Her lines are good and she has more sense than her husband the man-fly (okay, okay, his name is Andre and he's played by David Hedison who for some reason goes by Al Hedison in this). She's not afraid to frankly state she's nervous about her husband's new-fangled transporting invention, and that her darling might just be playing God a touch--though with the most benevolent intentions, of course. 

She's got a head on her shoulders and up until the end where she does that usual screaming and fainting business, she controls her emotions enough to try saving her husband, while still showing believable fear and franticness. 

What's especially moving about her character is another thing I loved about this movie: because Helene and Andre are established as a good, caring couple, without acting too sappy or trite, it makes his transformation and isolation in his lab all the more heartbreaking. I didn't expect to tear up at the end. But I did.

I was about undone at this scene, where he's losing his marbles to primitive fly instincts and scribbles furiously on the blackboard to his wife that he wants her to destroy him, but he can't resist one final message that I'm not ashamed to admit guts me:

Oh, man. And with his big ol' Dr. Strangelove fly-claw hidden away in his pocket so she doesn't have to see it...this shit is sad.

So, let's get our mind off it by nitpicking a few of the things that bugged me (this pun was unintentional and you can't prove otherwise don't judge me tools).

Remember how in my last post about child actors, I was all, "nothing's worse than watching an erudite, sophisticated man forced to succumb to the charms of a decidedly charmless child?" Yeah, well I got a huge dose of it here with Vincent Price acting the mushy uncle to little Charles Herbert's odious son of Mr. and Mrs. Man-Fly, Philippe. Luckily he's not in too many scenes, but he's far from endearing, and the ickiest wholesome lines are reserved for him. He basically ruins the ending of the movie, where he says, "Gee! I want to be an explorer just like my father!" Total cheesecake. Fitting for an Andy Hardy flick, not for scifi horror, thank you. However, it helps a little that when I looked up the plotline for the sequel, he does indeed follow his father's footsteps and becomes Man-Fly, Jr. Excellent.

Boy, I'm a bit of a curmudgeonly shit, aren't I? But the kid's just so blah. And the most American boy you could find, too, when the setting is in France.

Which leads to another thing that kind of got to me. The French setting. I mean, kudos, I guess, to sticking to author George Langelaan's original setting, but was it really necessary? I didn't notice the setting particularly effecting the events, which it doesn't have to, but it's still a little jarring. Because frankly, the kid's not the only one who seems so American--Owens, Hedison, and just the general vibe of the movie is very American.

And about that vibe: it's another thing that got to me. The whole direction and feel to the movie is very 1950s suburban Americana, and on one level it works in that the bland normality maybe hit home for Eisenhower American audiences that even nice, ordinary people like themselves can have terrible accidents like Andre. However, as much as I admired Owens' acting, the cheerful tone Neumann stuck to made her reactions at times unbelievable. Take that ending: she's been cleared of an insanity and murder charge, which is great and all, but as someone points out on the message board at IMDb, she's just so damn perky. The husband you adored is dead! You had to kill him! It was awful! You had to do it twice! His head! It was that of a fly's! You should be more traumatized, you doofus! I mean, thank you for not being a cringing damsel, but still! Show more of that emotional fragility from the really well done scene where you're trying to capture the fly with his head on it (seriously, that was a great sequence--very suspenseful and taut).

As for the big reveal where we see the fly head attached to the human body...well, let me put it this way. I've carped before about how there's too much CGI these days and not enough old-fashioned Jack Pierce makeup and so forth (probably haven't ranted too much about that here, but I have outloud in real life, where I also exist sometimes). But frankly, I wish I could take some of the improved special effects from today into the Way-Back Machine and improve the head, make it more realistic. I know I shouldn't demand too much from a low budget scifi film from the '50s, but I think they could have done better. The head really doesn't look like anything you couldn't get from a Halloween store, even back then. 

I feel like the scene where she first sees his feeler is creepier. And by "feeler" I mean his fly-tentacle-claw, not anything double-intendre-y, you creeps.

HOWEVER. They more than made up for that disappointing effect with the infamous "Help me! Heeeelllp meee" scene. True, the itty-bitty chipmunk voice was borderline ridiculous, but there's nothing not disturbing and traumatic about these images:


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Child actors that don't make me want to gauge my eyes out

My generous brother-in-law recently got the bright idea of splitting the cost of a really fancy HD TeeVee* with us and storing it at our house, an early Christmas present for all of us. So what's the first thing we watch with our magical new flatscreen, to take in the breathless realism of the images it can show us? The obvious thing to watch, of course: a Jurassic Park marathon!

I've only seen the first and second one on the TeeVee so far, and it's been years since I'd watched either one or the third movie. Some of my objective observations after all these years are: dinosaurs are great. I like dinosaurs, particularly the big ones that go "rawr". Laura Dern and Julianne Moore as the female leads in both films are so affable and bubbly I want to punch them. Sam Neill is hot. Despite the cuddly, contrite, Santa Claus vibe he gives off, John Hammond may just be cinema's greatest monster. You could almost forgive him his hubris in the first one because he acts a little sad and broken at the end, but then he jovially sends off four other people to Site B in the second movie, where one member gets torn in half by two T-Rexes. Does Hammond show any remorse for that? No. He just wears that damn shit-eating grin and monologues sappily about "life finding a way" at the end, reinstated as head of his company. Puh.

Other observations: Jeff Goldblum is very, very hot. Samuel L. Jackson is a badass no matter how paltry his role, or how awful his catchphrase "Hold onto your butt" is. He can smoke a damn cigarette in the office if he wants to, fuck you for throwing a shit-fit about it, it was only 1993. The T-Rexes remind me of my obsessive compulsive overweight German Shepherd mix. That searing glare the T-Rexes are famous for in the movies? Just like Milo when he's trying to get you to throw the toy throw the toy throw the toy.

Nothing will ever make me not like the first movie, and nothing will ever make me not ogle Goldblum in the second movie. However, the biggest observation I took away from both movies was how very, intensely much I hated the children. Hated. Did I look away when Samuel L. Jackson's arm fell on Laura Dern? No (I could also point out the veiled racism in a few of the first movie's scenes, but maybe that's for another post). Did I look away when that dude was ripped in half, or Peter Stormare (also pretty hot) almost got his lip ripped off by that Compy in the second? I kinda wanted to, but no. 

Did I look away when Lex and Tim cuddle up to Neill's composed, James Mason-of-the-Outdoors Dr. Grant up in that tree, or when Goldblum's Ian Malcolm tells his daughter she's his inspiration? Hell yes I did.

The child characters bring out contrived, forced emotions from the adult actors, making the audience feel uncomfortable on their behalf--particularly when they're as curmudgeonly and British as Grant or as coolly intellectual and snarky as Malcolm. But because their characters are so dry and intelligent, we're supposed to find it endearing that their soft spots end up being shrill, whiny, do-nothing-but-endanger-everyone children. But it's not endearing. It's sugary despair, is what it is.

Not only are the child characters poorly written as needy stereotypes, they're poorly acted for the most part, too. Some of the blame might lie with the director, since I'm sure Spielberg had his eye mostly on this new-fangled CGI business than concerning himself with getting good performances out of the kids. Hayley Mills lookalike Ariana Richards as Lex fares the best even if she is shrill and monotonous, probably coming across all right because she was in her teens at that point. But Joseph Mazzello as Tim and Vanessa Lee Chester as Kelly in the sequel are hopeless--particularly Chester, whose character wasn't even in the second book, and so feels shoved in and out of place. And going by our count, Tim should have died at least three times. Yeah, yeah, realistically all the characters should have died at various points, but Tim was freaking zapped by a high-voltage electric fence. (Is he an undead gremlin boy? That could explain a lot about his insipid personality).

But then again, this shuddering disapproval is my usual reaction to children in movies. It's not because I don't like children in general. In reality they just make me awkward and nervous--I can't relate to them at all, though I too like dinosaurs. It's just that if children are in movies, it's almost always so they can serve as symbols of innocence (barring the ghostly little creepers in straight-up horror movies). And symbols of innocence almost always come off as phony and saccharine, no matter in what medium or in what form. Not to mention, children generally don't act very well. 

HOWEVER. There are some that can. So to get in the holiday spirit or something (or whatever), here's a list of child actors that I actually admire.

Martin Stephens

Probably the best child actor I've ever seen, giving a lot of seasoned adults a run for their money. What's excellent about Village of the Damned and The Innocents is that both films exploit the problems people like me have with children-- not being able to relate to them, the inaccurate image of gleeful innocence the movies peddle of them--and make those qualities a terrifying cover of something far more sinister.

Particularly unsettling and preternaturally precocious is Stephens's performance as Miles in 1961's Innocents, one of the most beautiful and atmospheric horror films ever made, evocative of David Lynch's later works. It's a tour-de-force perfomance for the 12-year-old Stephens, an assured, confident display that subtly captures the corruption just simmering away beneath that bland, proper face.

Pamela Franklin

Admittedly I've only seen her as the second sibling Flora in The Innocents, and while she's not called upon to be as intense or nuanced as Stephens, hers is still a very delicate, unsettling performance in its own right. Who can forget her pert, pretty charm contrasted to her mesmerized stares into the distance and her haunting humming? Memorable.

Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly in Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games, 1952)

The most genuinely heartbreaking movie I've ever seen, with steady, unaffected performances from the young leads. The frank, touching, and at many times darkly comic tale concerns the somewhat morbid but still pure-intentioned coping methods of two children thrown together during the devastation of Germany's oncoming occupation of France during World War II--coping mechanisms that include swiping crosses from the church's graveyard to decorate their own graveyard for dead animals they find. 

Fossey is about as adorable a child can be without making you projectile vomit, her angelic mannerisms acceptable because of their artless quality. Poujouly, as the poor, rustic farm boy who takes her in, has the unsentimental gravity to complement her dreamy spaciness, yet his fierce love and protectiveness of her is apparent, and will tear you apart at the end. Fossey turned into a lovely adult with a reasonably active career, but frustratingly Poujouly, despite making many films after, never seems to have made a name for himself, and died ten years ago (oh man, on my birthday, that sucks).

The movie is on Netflix Instant View, so I highly recommend it if you have an account and can cope with your tears.

Bobb'e J. Thompson

I was forced against my will to go see 2008's Role Models at the theater, but was pleasantly surprised at its lack of meanheartedness. Thompson as the raunchy, volatile Ronnie was a lot of fun and had a great delivery. I'm pleased he also plays Tracy's oft-neglected son Tracy, Jr. on 30 Rock, another good showcase for an intelligent, unsentimental kid to strut his acting skills. Too bad his presence constantly thwarts Tracy's efforts to tell an amazing stripper story, and that little Tracy, Jr. might just be trying to Menendez his father in order to inherit that porn video game money.

Chloe Moretz

Shamefully I must admit the fact that I have as yet to see her in a whole movie, just having seen bits and parts of her scenes in Kickass and Let Me In. I do plan to see the much lauded Hugo sometime soon. But speaking of 30 Rock, the episode she was in last season was my first complete Moretz experience, and she did not disappoint. I was amazed to find out she really was only fourteen. She has a brilliant comic timing, and loads of presence. And she has good taste in projects, projects that will help propel her into adult success, since few movies she's done really have CHILDREN'S FILM written in big block letters all over them. I look forward to her interpretation of Carolyn in Dark Shadows, since if anyone can pull off a younger version of Carolyn, it should be Moretz.

This isn't a complete list, but it's sort of redundant to point out stellar kid actors like Dakota Fanning or Jodie Foster in her Taxi Driver days. Just wanted to remind myself that not all cinematic moppets are twee and dimply. They can also be murderous vampires, malicious aliens, or possibly possessed. So there continues to be hope for this world. A happy holiday season to us all!

P.S. I'm working a seasonal position at the mall that's heating up in a big way as Christmas is nearing, so that's why I haven't been very active lately, and I might not be again until after the holidays. I'll still try to update as much as I can and comment on the many delightful blogs I follow, but if you hear scarce word from me, have a safe and good time eating holiday food and all that jazz!

* "TeeVee" to be pronounced in this case like Tom Servo does here at 0:40.