Friday, December 26, 2008

Best Picture Nominees: The Front Page (1931)

It is difficult to judge Lewis Milestone's version of Ben Hecht's and Charles MacArthur's play The Front Page without comparing it to its definite remake, Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday. Pat O'Brien is Hildy Johnson, a reporter about to leave his job and get married, who is lured back into his old trade by his editor Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou) and a story to good to be passed up. The bantering between the journalists in the court house's press room is the major thread of the film. A pity that the sound quality of the version I watched did not pay justice to the scenes.
A good early sound film with interesting camera movements and clever use of the relatively new medium, The Front Page is a good and effective film, albeit a bit sexist with its suggestion of women interfering in men's friendship and business. That's another reason why I prefer His Girl Friday, with Rosalind Russell playing a female Hildy Johnson and supplying this film with the gimmick that puts it on a level above the original.
So far it is the best of the 1931 nominees I've seen.

1931 rankings so far: The Front Page, Cimarron

Still to watch: East Lynne, Skippy, Trader Horn

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Picture Nominees: Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

A rather forced, supposedly magical entry from 1941, this film suffers from a contrived storyline that might have satisfied early WWII audiences, but does not hold up today.
Boxer Joe Pendleton dies, is sent back to earth to take over the body of a misogynist millionaire, who then is killed as well, then settles into a body of another boxer. Along the way, he manages to convince a girl who fell in love with a millionaire, to fall for the 2nd boxer, as both people are really Joe Pendleton (confusing, eh?)
It is hard to understand how Mr. Jordan won two Oscars for writing, considering this plot. The best thing in the film is Claude rains as benevolent Mr. Jordan, an angel-like figure who helps Joe Pendleton on the journey through two bodies.
So far, this film ranks 7th and lowest among the 1941 BP nominees, even behind Suspicion, for which I don't care very much.

1941 rankings so far: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, How Green Was My Valley, The Little Foxes, Sergeant York, Suspicion, Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Still to watch: Blossoms in the Dust, Hold Back the Dawn, One Foot in Heaven

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I Love Bette!

I know, I'm lazy. Very lazy. But as, at the moment at least, I'm doing this blog for myself only, the motivation to post new stuff is very small...ahem

But there is one thing I want the world to know (The world... so me...whatever... ;)):
That Bette Davis is the greatest actress that ever graced this planet. Every movie I see with her convinces me again and again of her divinity and each new laugh-out-loud quote by her makes me believe that she was quite a character, one that is not found anymore among our current, colourless actresses...
Just check out this one: "Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Joan Crawford always plays ladies."
Or: "Until you're known in my profession as a monster, you're not a star."

For more of the like, just go to Davis's trivia section of IMDb. Great quotes, I can tell you!

To discover the Davis, I advise everyone to watch "All about Eve", her best performance, and also one of the greatest films of all time. Other great films are "Jezebel", "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", "Dark Victory", to only name a few.

So, go check her out and you'll certainly agree with Bette when she says: "I'm the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived!"

Have fun! ;-)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Sequels - Eagerly Awaited, Rarely Satisfying

What must a sequel have so that it does not disappoint and holds up to its predecessor? Read on!
This summer is more than ever the summer of the film sequel. Or, in quite a few cases, of the threequel. Sequels are mostly done as guaranteed money-makers for the film studios, not because something worthy is to add to the story of the franchise. And that is the fear many fans of the original have: You loved the first film, were captured by its magic and you want it to continue, are excited about it. But you are always afraid that the makers mess it up and produce an unworthy successor that ruins even the memory of the blessed original.
I only have to think of "Pirates of the Caribbean". The first movie was such a nicely entertaining romp, and the sequels just upped on effects and action, but left out a good story. And don't get me started on "Matrix". I try hard to forget the horrible sequels! Worst. Franchise. Ending. Ever!
There are not many sequels which can hold up to their originals. Because how can you properly extend a storyline that seems to have finished in the first film? Develop a completely new one, for example. That may work. One only has to look at "Aliens" to see that. While the original was a suspense shocker, the second film turned out to be a pure action blockbuster. Released in the action film heyday of the 1980s, "Aliens" stood out because of its female lead (opposed to the standard male action hero) and action expert James Cameron.
But other sequels work very often because they have a book or a story that they are based on. That provides the writers with a thought-through storyline that only has to be adapted to the screen. OK, fair enough, this can fall flat as well, if the transition sucks. But looking at films like "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" or "Spider-Man 2" shows: It can work really, really well.
Speaking of Spidey: In this case, at least in my humble opinion, the sequel even improved on the original. A more interesting villain, the story more gripping, what more can one ask for? "Shrek 2" also worked better than its predecessor, largely due to adding Puss in Boots to the crew and a screenplay to beat. And yes, there are more examples of great sequels, "X-Men 2", "Terminator 2", "The Empire Strikes Back", "Toy Story 2" and the perennial sequel classic "Bride of Frankenstein".
And why did they succeed? Because they developed the story, added fresh new characters that fit in well, and expanded the whole universe of the franchise. But the emphasis lies on story development. This is what makes a sequel rise or fall.
And lacking in this summer's sequels is? A good story, yes! "Pirates" failed already on the second outing. But "Spider-Man 3" was the first disappointing movie in the series, with too many villains, and a repetitive plot. "Shrek the Third", even worse. The makers did only bother to improve the animation (which could be expected), but did not care much about the plot. Relying on your previous installments' reputation to get audiences to the cinema is not enough!
And that is the one mistake producers of sequels almost always make. Cash in on the previous success, never mind the story. But a really good sequel is a movie that could stand on its own, without having to rely completely on previous successes. A great movie in its own right, with a good story, that is worth the while. If you do not have a story that is original enough, drop the idea of a sequel. Or better: stamp it into your trash bin. But I know, in the end it is only the money that counts. What a pity. And we can expect "Spider-Man 4-6" and "Shrek 4+5" and only pray for a good story. The horror! Or, just stay at home and show the film studios our middle finger. But in the end we will be there. And they know that.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Who will be a Legend?

All the movie stars that we attribute the term "legend" to stem from the early decades of cinema. Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, to name only a few.
Does an actor have to have passed away before he can be called a legend?
What does it take to be rememembered in decades to come? Oscar wins? Box office success? Media coverage?
And who, from our stars of today, may be a movie legend in, say, 50 years?