Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WITHOUT LOVE | 1945 | No Love Lost.

Well, they can't all be winners.

This is all rom-com, light on the com, hold the screwball.  It's like an extremely well casted, Kate Hudson sans Cameron Crowe movie.  It starts off strong - Pat Jamieson (Spencer Tracy) is a guy in search of a room for the night, he's stumped and discussing his problem with his cab driver when a drunk sort of commandeers his cab.  Pat sees an opportunity and gets his new cab partner, Quentin Ladd (Keenan Wynn) to invite him to stay the night.  Only the house doesn't belong to Quentin, it belongs to his cousin Jamie Rowan (Katherine Hepburn).  We soon learn Pat is a fancy scientist, that Jamie's Dad had been a fancy scientist, and that both Pat and Jamie could use a marriage of convenience, and then...

There are some lovely moments early in the movie.  Particularly when Pat and Jamie are getting to know one another and he explains he's through with love because of a bad experience, and she tells him she's through with love because of a good experience.  Each story is a bit cliche, but Spencer and Katherine make it work.  If only the backstories these characters share were as crafted as well as the acting!

Similarly, Lucille Ball, Keenan Wynn, and Patricia Morison do the best they can.  It's just painfully obvious that they all exist only to help the leads unite.  Of course, this is technically all this kind of character does in any rom-com, but these minor story-lines should also be engaging, coherent and complement the main struggle somehow.  In WITHOUT LOVE?  Not so much.

Watch it for (some of) the parts, but don't make the mistake of thinking that any of it will add up to anything greater.

Released: 1945
Director: Harold S. Bucquet
Leads: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lucille Ball
Writer: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart
Genre: Romantic Comedy (of the worst sort)
Plot Summary and reviews of WITHOUT LOVE @ Rotten Tomatoes

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Downton Abbey and the Disney Princesses

For each episode of Downton Abbey's second season, a friend has taken me into her home and fed me snacks while we watch the show.  Tonight PBS will run the last fresh Downton Abbey episode before Season 3 begins.  Although in the U.S. this episode is running as the last of Season 2, my understanding is that it had originally run as a sort of holiday special.  And so, in honor of this episode, and as a way of celebrating my hostess, and I thought I'd see if I couldn't track down some Christmas Crackers.

I know it's February, and I know I'm in the U.S., but I thought I'd give it a go.  A Brit friend of mine directed me to a store that specializes in importing authentic British foodstuffs and sundry items.  I called the place and was told that they were out of Christmas crackers, but had some that were for "other occasions".

Though the idea of non-Christmas crackers felt like it was probably a bit like those sad "Easter trees" decorated with egg, bunny and other spring themed ornaments, I was willing to buy some of the damn things if they might kind of pass as Christmasy-enough, and might possibly delight my friend.  Beyond that, I figured the worst that could happen was that a snooty shop lady would judge me for buying non-traditional crackers from her ("Daft Yank").  Which wouldn't be too awful, because I would totally agree with her.

Instead, what I found at the end of my inconvenient errand a few miles out of town was:  Disney Princess crackers.

I wish I could say that, at that moment, standing 10' from an Oregon interpretation of high tea service and surrounded by racks of delicate tea pots, that I smashed everything to bits and then, with a cracker in each hand, I dropped to my knees and raised my hands to the heavens screaming "Why, Walt? Why?!!!??!!!!" and/or that I popped open all crackers in the store, stacked each of the paper crowns on my head and then whimpered while curled up in a nest of the paper rubbish, but I didn't.  I just quietly left the store.  (And sent a tweet cursing the So-Cal born royalty).

It was my fault.  My hope and optimism kept me from asking for details about "other occasions" the instant I heard it.  But, even then, would the Disney Princesses have come up?  And, for what occasion does one bring out the Disney Princess crackers?

At first, I was a bit miffed, that Disney was able to stake a claim in this independent store supposedly devoted to traditional foods and sundry items from a non-U.S. country, but if the corporate-entertainment-complex will continue to prove itself to be this insidious, I'll just consider this a gentle reminder to always be prepared.

Before making a dinner reservation, committing to see a new hairstylist, or calling a cab, I must always confirm, "Will any of the Disney Princesses involved?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

THE APARTMENT | 1960 | Classic Screwball evolves into a "Dirty Fairy Tale"

I wrote the post below on my iPhone and emailed it to myself shortly after my annual New Years Eve viewing of the film. The plan was that, once sober, I'd gussy it up into something of substance and share it here.  It has sat in my in-box unread ever since.  Here it is, still un-gussied...  Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm not yet sure if THE APARTMENT is a screwball comedy, but it probably wouldn't exist without screwball.  At the very least it shares some DNA with classic screwball, what with all of the rapid-fire dialog, the romantically self-serving "all is fair" philosophy of most characters, as well as the consistent levity in spite of how dark the story gets.  Not to mention NYC and all of the cocktails.

Actually, it's a bit like the flip-side of a comedy of remarriage, the alternate reality where the heroes aren't the married couples, but the single schnooks. Imagine if THE AWFUL TRUTH focused on Ralph Bellamy's Oklahoma oilman, or even the voice instructor.  In that film we're so focused on seeing Jerry and Lucy (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) reunited, that we are relieved to see these two speed-bumps on the road to true love in the rear-view mirror.  And, yet, if these were real people, we'd (hopefully) feel for them a bit, because they have invested their hearts in people that will never reciprocate.

In another film, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and Fran Kubelick (Shirley MacLaine) would have been the speed bumps.  Instead, Billy Wilder focused in on them and explored the pain of feeling like a pawn, and the frustration of not getting what you want.  Luckily, because the losers-in-love have been promoted to leading roles, these two schnooks get a happy ever after.  Ending-wise.

In the near future, I'll see if I can't stretch and twist my definition of screwball so that THE APARTMENT qualifies.  I'd love to be able to reference it often.

Released: 1960 (Oscar win, Best Picture)
Director: Billy Wilder (Oscar win)
Leads: Jack Lemmon (Oscar nom), Shirley MacLaine (Oscar nom), Fred MacMurray
Supporting: Jack Kruschen (Oscar win, Best Supporting Actor)
Writer: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond (Oscar win, Best Original Screenplay)
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Drama, Dirty Fairy Tale, and possibly a Screwball Comedy (TBD)
Plot Summary and reviews of THE APARTMENT @ Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, February 13, 2012


First watch WALT & EL GRUPO, then watch WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY and be horrified at the drastic downgrade of personal style, social skills and general polish.

Chucking everything else about the films on the shelf, EL GRUPO es mucho más elegante than the SLEEPING BEAUTY crowd.

It's not just them, it was the whole world.  What happened?  Seriously.  I don't think it was just the hippies and what not of the late 60s.  Whatever.  If that era taught us anything it's that what a person actually does/creates is be more important than their clothes.

Still, the people interviewed for EL GRUPO did not have to present the documentary crew with photos of their parents wearing wacky ties, white running shoes and/or Hawaiian shirts to premieres, award shows, and/or meetings with dignitaries.  Honestly, that might be the most important kindness done by anyone in these docs.