Sunday, December 31, 2017

Film and Book Tally 2017

Well, thank God another garbage year is done with. (Is it weird that it went by both too fast and too slow?) Anyway, I had a few bright spots in this otherwise crummy time: I had a job at a movie theater (which I left after four months because I got fed up with it), went to a few film festivals (my savings are now nigh depleted), and had my work pile up repeatedly. Oh wait, that last one isn't a good thing... (Some will be up presently, I promise.)

Anyway, you're all here to see what I saw and read this year but in comparison to the last few years, the lists are a bit shorter. (Oh, the joys of having depression: it always sucks out any motivation to see and/or do anything.) The lists start after the jump:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Never Say Goodbye

The opening moments of James V. Kern's Never Say Goodbye shows Ellen (Eleanor Parker) and Phil Gayley (Errol Flynn) both separately buying a coat for their daughter Flip (Patti Brady). She buys a modest coat for Flip while he gets a flashier one. This establishes who the two of them are as parents.

Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Ellen and Phil are divorced. (The reason as to why their marriage ended isn't specified though Phil's wandering eye might have something to do with it.) As part of their settlement, Flip lives with Phil for half of the year and then with Ellen for the other half. This isn't an ideal situation for Flip so she tries to get her parents back together. But will she succeed?

By this point in Flynn's career, his film union with Olivia de Havilland had ended five years earlier, he tried to expand his screen image (with varying success), and then there were his legal woes. Obviously, he needed some serious PR, and Never Say Goodbye certainly helped a bit. (Was there anyone who oozed more charm than Flynn? Probably not.)

Something that's brought up throughout Never Say Goodbye is the effects of divorce on a child. Ellen mentions that Flip needs to accept that her parents will never get back together, obviously not taking into account how shuffling from household to household isn't the best scenario for her young daughter. (Bear in mind this was released the same year Benjamin Spock made a name for himself in similar matters.)

Never Say Goodbye is predictable in spots but as Flynn showed previously with Four's a Crowd, he was just adept at comedy as he was with swashbuckler pictures. (Parker, in turn, serves as a sort of straight woman to the film's antics.) It's not the usual fare for its leads but they're enjoyable nonetheless.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Man Who Came to Dinner

The minute radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) opens his mouth in William Keighley's The Man Who Came to Dinner, his disdain for, well, everything knows no bounds. And after he breaks his hip, his caustic tongue doesn't take it easy like the rest of him. God help those who cross both him and his path.

Alongside this misanthropic figure is his ever-patient assistant Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis), who serves as a sort of translator for those unfamiliar with Sheridan's barbs. (Amusingly, Davis of all people has only one line with an ounce of venom in it.) This being her follow-up to The Little Foxes, she was drawn to the original play's light ambiance. (She succeeded in convincing Jack Warner to buy the rights but not as lucky in getting John Barrymore as her leading man.)

Throughout The Man Who Came to Dinner, there are traits that were also seen in farcical comedies of the time: jabs at the upper class, a vamp who's constantly on the prowl, Billie Burke as the ditzy society lady...you know, the usual specs. (Hey, give the people what they want.)

Now Keighley had various ups and downs as a director prior to making The Man Who Came to Dinner. (He worked at Warner Bros. so he had worked with the likes of Davis, James Cagney, and Errol Flynn.) It's more than likely that the higher-ups had some doubts on the director as a whole (film critic David Thomson certainly thinks so) but that doesn't reduce the worth of his many films.

The Man Who Came to Dinner is a breezy comedy of manners, its release being at perhaps an ideal time. (The attack on Pearl Harbor was only the month before.) If the following years proved anything, Woolley was more than warmly welcomed to Hollywood as a result of his work here.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Molly's Game

Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game opens with Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) going on a soliloquy about her sports career and how it ended harshly. "None of this has anything to do with poker. I'm only mentioning it because I wanted to say to whoever answered that the worst thing to happen in sports was fourth place at the Olympics: seriously? Fuck you."

This being a Sorkin-penned work, at least two-thirds of the dialogue in Molly's Game is breathless monologues, most of them Molly explaining the world of poker to her audience. Alternating between her rise in the underground poker empire and her public fall from grace, it follows how Molly establishes an acute business sense in lieu of law school. But soon various addictions and the mafia get involved, and things start to spiral downhill.

Much like The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Molly's Game has a lead whose goal is to get ahead in the world they're a part of. But instead something technology-based, Molly is more focused on going right for the bank balances of gamblers. But she's aware of the consequences from getting in too deep.

As is usually expected from Sorkin, he has solid work both for and from his actors. Alongside Chastain are the likes of Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera, just to name the more prolific faces in Molly's Game. But this is without question Chastain's show. It's only a matter of time before she (further) dominates Hollywood.

Molly's Game is certainly a change of pace for Sorkin. (If only he could move past his own sexism to make similar future projects.) Though it's clear in some scenes (occasionally painfully so) that this is his first time in the director's seat, Sorkin shows promise as more than just a writer. (What would be the likelihood of him working with someone else's script for a later project?)

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Battle of the Sexes

At first glance, one would assume that Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' Battle of the Sexes was solely focused on the famed tennis match between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). But in reality, the film focuses more on the players and those in their social circles.

Riggs is depicted as a washed-up tennis star with a nasty gambling habit. (His estranged wife mentions that she's the one footing the bills.) He's constantly showboating his skill, many times to his advantage to make a quick buck. (He wins a Rolls Royce at one point.) Of course such chauvinism will come back to bite him in the ass.

King, meanwhile, is captured as someone who will work as hard as she can whether it's on the tennis court or in other aspects of her life. But what's also on focus for King's arc is her affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). And while the relationship isn't oversexualized (seriously, Hollywood, girl-on-girl action isn't meant for lewd fantasies), it does oversimplify it. (Just Google "Billie Jean King palimony suit".)

And then there's the match itself. In preparing for it, the two take different approaches. King actually goes through training while Riggs -- overly confident that he'll win -- indulges himself in promotions. Just goes to show their methods or approach are on opposite ends of the same spectrum.

Battle of the Sexes is more than just the match; it's about the actual battle of the sexes of the era (which will probably never reach a final conclusion). Boasting a solid roster of actors, it provides great both for and from Carell (who's having a good year with this and Last Flag Flying) and Stone (in her best work to date). Here's hoping Dayton and Faris continue this streak.

My Rating: ****1/2

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Early into Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of a Sacred Deer, its general ambience is established. Its sterile mood depicts a precise atmosphere for surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) and his family. But once Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts forcing himself into this comfortable life, trouble begins to boil over.

It isn't outright mentioned what kind of disorder Martin is afflicted with (though Steven alludes to it at one point) but it's clear he's not in the right frame of mind. Is it because of his father's death years before (he blames Steven for not saving him on the operating table) or has Martin always been like this? The ambiguity only makes the film all the more unnerving.

In contrast to Lanthimos' previous film The Lobster -- whose main theme was love -- The Killing of a Sacred Deer has hate as its motif. Similar to The Beguiled earlier this year (which also starred Farrell and Nicole Kidman), sympathetic hospitality gets abused and it isn't long until violence enters the picture. Sometimes the kindness of strangers results in the manipulation from others.

And as he depicted with his previous film, Lanthimos maintains an emotional detachment to everything happening throughout The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Many of the lines delivered have a matter-of-fact tone to them (almost to the point of sounding indifferent to the audience), and there's not much in the way of of visible emotions outside rage. Again, it may be deliberate on Lanthimos' part.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn't quite reach the same levels as The Lobster but its lurid manner makes it stand out in some regards. Farrell continues to prove his worth as an actor while Keoghan -- in combination with Dunkirk earlier this year -- reminds casting directors to keep him in consideration for future projects. (This won't be the last we hear of the young Irish actor, that's for sure.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Pretty Poison

It's established early on in Noel Black's Pretty Poison that Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) is not entirely there. (Well, he is on parole from a mental institution.) Soon he gets Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld) wrapped up in his "missions", and it doesn't take long for chaos to unfold.

This being Perkins' first post-Psycho Hollywood role (he had done several projects overseas), there are the obvious parallels between his famous role and Pretty Poison. But Black wanted to capture the Perkins previously seen in Friendly Persuasion and Fear Strikes Out, not the one that limited the actor's future career. (Perkins still got typecast after this.) That said, the two periods of his profession are entwined within Dennis.

That's not to disregard Perkins' work in Pretty Poison, far from it, He was an actor who captured a sense of naivete very well throughout his career. Though often in roles where he's a bundle of nerves within a lanky frame, he was still good at his job.

And then there's Weld. Surprisingly devoid of an Oscar nomination for her work in Pretty Poison, she plays Sue Ann as a classic femme fatale: attractive, seductive and very dangerous. (She certainly lives up to the film's title, that's for sure.)

Pretty Poison is part of that cinematic canon which marked a decided shift in Hollywood and its storytelling. Gone is the whole concept of playing it safe; now directors, writers and actors had less restrictions for the stories they wanted to make. And the results -- like what's seen here -- can be downright anarchic in comparison to the previous decade's contributions.

My Rating: ****1/2