Saturday, May 3, 2014

Easy Virtue

Year 6, Day 123 - 5/3/14 - Movie #1,720

BEFORE: 4 Hitchcock films down after tonight, with just 46 to go.  Ugh, I think I know how the moviegoers felt in the early days of cinema, namely they couldn't WAIT for dialogue to be added so they could finally hear what everyone was saying, instead of reading it.  Watching everyone's lips moving as they chatter at each other is so tedious, after all.

Linking from "The Farmer's Wife", Lillian Davis-Hall was also in "The Ring" with Ian Hunter, who shows up again tonight.

THE PLOT: A divorcée hides her scandalous past from her new husband and his family.

AFTER: Again, it seems a little weird that Hitchcock was so concerned with these relationship sort of issues.  This film's all about how society treated people who got divorced back in the day, and how this affected a woman's image and her next relationship.

It opens in the middle of a divorce trial, with barristers in powdered wigs and all that - geez, these days you just sign divide up your assets, sign your name on a piece of paper, and that's about it.  Back then you had to go to court, and your photo appeared in the society page, and it was a big mark on your reputation.  The trial scenes were a bit confusing, because everyone was called the "co-respondent" or the "plaintiff's counsel" and so forth.

Here's a case where a flashback scene really helped clarify things - our heroine, Larita, was posing for a portrait, and the artist got a little grabby, and her husband got jealous.  Tempers flared and one man ended up shooting the other - not fatally, but clearly the damage was done to the relationship.  I guess you didn't stay married to a woman once she'd been sullied by a common artist.

She moves to France, which of course is the best place to meet another English gentleman.  Things seem to work out with her new love, until they go back to England and she has to contend with his family, and after his mother recognizes her from the newspapers, it's all downhill from there. 

This is based on a Noel Coward play, and clearly standards were different in the early 20th century, but like today, it seems everyone drew the line in their own place.  Divorce was technically legal and adultery probably wasn't, but come on, everyone just went around doing whatever they wanted and then it all got sorted out later, right?  But Coward is known for his witty dialogue, and it's just a shame that we can't hear any of it due to the technical limits of film at the time.

Like "The Lodger", this film got remade a few years ago, this time with dialogue and music and such, and it seems like the remake started the story in a different place - with Larita meeting John in France, and then dealing with his family.  She mentions being married before, but the scandalous details are not seen by the audience until John's family also learns them.  Structurally, this seems like a bolder and better choice, to make her shocking past feel like a real shock.

Also starring Isabel Jeans, Robin Irvine, Enid Stamp-Taylor, Franklin Dyall, Eric Bransby Williams, Violet Farebrother.

RATING: 4 out of 10 tennis courts

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Farmer's Wife

Year 6, Day 122 - 5/2/14 - Movie #1,719

BEFORE: Well, this was unexpected - Lillian Hall-Davis, lead actress in "The Ring", carries over to appear in this one.  I guess I should have known that Hitchcock would build up a supporting cast of players that he would use again and again, it's just more efficient that way.  Hall-Davis was supposedly Hitchcock's favorite actress in the early days, but she only made 5 more films after this one, and had some kind of nervous breakdown in 1931, and then commited suicide in 1933, Sylvia Plath-style (head in the gas stove).

THE PLOT:  After his daughter weds, a middle-aged widower with a profitable farm decides to remarry but finds choosing a suitable mate a problematic process.

AFTER: Speaking of unexpected, when I think about Hitchcock, I think about spies and intrigue and crime, not a widower looking for a new wife.  This really comes out of left field, but I think it's from a time where Alfred was still looking for his niche, trying to find his own voice as a filmmaker.

I am just not doing well with these silent films - so far they've all managed to lull me to sleep, but then I wake up and realize I've missed half of the film, so I have to rewind (do you rewind a DVD?  No? Damn, whatever you call it, I do that...) back to where I left off and try again.  Then I doze off again, so I end up watching the film in little chunks, and it takes me about three hours to watch a 90-minute silent film.  This is a very inefficient use of my post-midnight time each morning.

I see this Farmer Sweetland character as sort of the "Ron Swanson" of his time - he expects to get married again, but that doesn't mean he understands the process.  In the meantime, he comes off like a down-to-earth, no B.S. kind of guy, and I can respect that.  But you can't just make a list of women and go and visit them to see which ones are into you.  That's not how the game is played, and it says something about Sweetland's character that he thinks the process will be just that simple.

One woman is too proper, another is prone to hysterics - a third runs a successful tavern, and has no shortage of eligible suitors, so she's not interested.  Oh, and they're all terrible gossips.  Yeah, women don't exactly get the best depiction here, but again, it's a product of the time it was made.  It's also a bit of a shortcut, to make all of the women on the list undesirable in some fashion, which clears the way for the one woman already in his life who IS desirable to shine through.  Goodness knows, we don't want to present the lead character with too many choices, or things could get complicated. 

Once Farmer Sweetland's eyes are opened, and he's determined that the perfect woman for him was under his nose all along (hey, she's already got experience running the farm's household AND she happens to fit into his dead wife's clothes - talk about a perfect match!) Hitchcock couldn't resist getting in one more swipe at the nature of women.  Two of the women who the farmer called upon and proposed to show up at his house, one stating that she's reconsidered his offer, but it's done only to put the other woman in her place.  Because everyone knows that women often get married just to spite each other, right?

I failed to realize that Sweetland's farm handyman was also playing the role of the butler working at the party held by one of Sweetland's prospective mates.  This is played for laughs, the character is given an ill-fitting coat, and can't seem to keep his trousers up, and this bit of physical comedy almost seems like it has no place in this picture.  Besides, it's an awful coincidence that Sweetland goes to a party where his own servant is also helping out.  Were there so few jobs in town that one guy has two of them, or did being a farmhand pay so little that the guy had to moonlight on odd jobs?

The footage of the fox hunt is another strange tangent - I don't see how it adds anything to the plot, so with a final running time of just over two hours (which is quite long, given the year it was released), this is something that could have easily been jettisonned to make a more reasonable running time.

Also starring Jameson Thomas (last seen in "It Happened One Night") , Gordon Hawker (also last seen in "The Ring"), Maud Gill, Louie Pounds, Ruth Maitland.

RATING: 4 out of 10 foxhounds

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Ring (1927)

Year 6, Day 121 - 5/1/14 - Movie #1,718

BEFORE: Just in case you thought I was watching that scary horror film from a few years back - no, this is Alfred Hitchcock's next feature, from 1927, when he decided to give sports a try.  I can't think of a stranger occurence than the large, corpulent Hitchcock being interested in a sport that involves some kind of physical activity.

Linking from "The Lodger", Marie Ault was also in a 1927 film called "Roses of Picardy" with Lillian Hall-Davis, this film's lead actress.  Eventually Hitchcock will start making cameos in his films, and I won't have to worry about this.

THE PLOT:  Two boxers compete for the love of a woman.

AFTER: Ah, but Hitch had to throw a love triangle into the mix, and a (perhaps) unfaithful woman.  Another shameless hussy (who hurt you, Alfred Hitchcock, WHO was she?) and she's dating her long-time love, an amateur boxer, and the more seasoned pro who takes him on as a sparring partner.  No doubt there's an unscrupulous manager type who's promising the kid a shot at the title if he just plays his cards right and waits for his moment...

Well, no doubt that's what we'd hear if there was dialogue, but I'm still in the silent phase of Hitchcock's career.  If you watch this, you really get an appreciation for films after sound was added - that just brings so much to the table in a boxing film.  You really need to hear the DING of that bell, the roar of the crowd, and those great sound effects of punches landing on an opponent's torso.  I watched a version that had a music track, and it was the SAME monotonous music throughout the entire film, whether it was a fight scene, or a love scene, or a scene where people are just having a drink.  Yeah, movies kind of sucked back in the 1920's.

There weren't too many dialogue cards here, which is good, but that also meant that some of the dialogue was hard to figure out, so I think it's a delicate balance that needs to be struck.  The dialogue posted on screen shouldn't slow the film down, but neither should its absence make the film hard to follow.

I'm not sure if the title refers to the boxing ring, or a wedding ring, or the circle formed by the three lovers and their friends - I suspect Hitch was engaging in a bit of wordplay.

Later in the film, the young boxer, Jack, is married to Nellie, but the marriage has gone flat, so she looks to the older boxer for excitement and comfort.  Gee, that sounds an awful lot like the plot of "Hitchcock" from a couple nights ago.

This film and "The Lodger" sort of remind me of the student films I made and viewed at NYU back in a long-ago time called the 80's.  By that I mean that the ideas are sort of half-formed, and it feels like storylines are started without a clear idea of where they're going to end up.  In other words, I like the set-up of this film, but they either didn't know which way to take it, or the story started to drift in an unplanned way.  I remember I made a short film about a man who faced a killer in his dreams every night, and I shot the scenes of the killer in Central Park starring a college roommate, and then shot the scenes of the man having the dream at Harvard University, where a high-school friend was going to college.  Then I realized too late that I needed some kind of final confrontation between the two characters, and setting this up was going to be impossible without bringing one actor to the other, which I couldn't afford to do.  So, no resolution then.

Also starring Carl Brisson, Ian Hunter, Forrester Harvey, Gordon Harker.

RATING:  3 out of 10 sideshow acts

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Lodger (1927)

Year 6, Day 120 - 4/30/14 - Movie #1,717

BEFORE: Full disclosure, I went to see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" last night, and I'm not planning to post my review until just before Comic-Con, when I'll also have a chance to watch the new X-Men and Spider-Man films.  I'm not proud of monkeying with my timeline, since this is supposed to be a record of what I've watched and in what order, but I've got my plan and in order to stick to it and reduce the watchlist, this is the course I've chosen.  But since the "S.H.I.E.L.D." TV show made direct references to the events in the Captain America film, I needed to check it out now.

I sort of realized too late that the linking was ideal - Anthony Hopkins was also in "Thor: The Dark World", and then Stan Lee would have been my link to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", and then Scarlett Johansson could have linked to "Hitchcock" - but that would have thrown me two days off of my tribute date.  So I'll find another way to get there...

THE PLOT:  A landlady suspects her new lodger is the madman killing women in London.

AFTER: Old Hitch made a couple of short films before this one, but this is the oldest one in the DVD collection, plus it represents his first "stab" at the suspense genre.  If you try hard enough, you can almost see the genesis of "Psycho" in this film about a serial killer.  (For that matter, this could easily be the film that Woody Allen ripped off...sorry, paid tribute to with "Shadows and Fog".)

Problem is, it's something of a mess. The killer is targeting young blondes (funny, so did Hitchcock, but in a different way...) and you'd think this would lead to an increase in the sales of hair color and hats, but no, the blonde girls are on display at fashion shows and such - why, they're practically daring the killer to murder them!  How dare they walk down the street in such a brazen fashion, those hussies! 

When the stereotypical "mysterious drifter" shows up at a boarding-house, bearing quite a resemblance to a man that no one has ever got a good look at (wait, what?) and he chooses a room with many portraits of blonde women, and then turns all the portraits around so he can't see them.  So, umm, why didn't he just pick another room, then?

Meanwhile, girls keep getting killed, and the pattern leads right to the boarding house.  Because killers often work in patterns, and they usually make sure that the pattern leads the police right to them, right?  And Joe, the lead policeman, just happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the blonde woman who falls for the lodger.  That's a pretty big coincidence, or perhaps it's a convenience.  It also gives the cop a reason to rush to judgment, when the items found in the lodger's room could just as easily be murderer-tracking items, as they could also be murderer's tools and tokens.

Man, those were the days, right?  When murderers left notes taking credit for their work?  I'd like to know when exactly Hallmark discontinued their "serial killer" line.   See, it didn't matter if you were a killer, people back in the day had MANNERS.  The cops were then obligated to post a "thank you" note when the killer did his grisly business close to the police station, so they weren't inconvenienced.

Somebody remade this in 2009, but I'm not all that interested.  I've already got style whiplash from watching a 2014 film (Captain America) and this in the same 24-hour period.  Silent films, where half the time I can't understand what people are saying, and the other half I have to READ it - damn, movies today are just better, and a whole lot easier to watch.  Besides, I already covered serial killers last year...

Starring Ivor Novello, June, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, Malcolm Keen, with a cameo from Alfred Hitchcock (who also appeared in a photo in last night's film, so that preserves my linking...)

RATING: 3 out of 10 chess pieces

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Year 6, Day 119 - 4/29/14 - Movie #1,716

BEFORE: It's the end of the Anthony Hopkins chain, except for "Thor: The Dark World", which I'm going to table for now.  At last I can reveal my reasoning for starting this chain tonight, today is the 34th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's death, April 29, 1980.  Yeah, I could have waited until August 13 to celebrate his birth, but I was inspired by TCM's December tribute to the actors who died last year, plus I think the "master of macabre" would have preferred it this way.

THE PLOT:  A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of "Psycho" in 1959.

AFTER: Hopkins unfortunately does not bear too much of a facial resemblance to Hitchcock, but he also played Richard Nixon without looking too much like him - so we have to make do with a vocal impression, and forgive the rest.  They did manage to find a dead ringer for Anthony Perkins, though.

This is supposed to be Hitchcock at the height of his popularity, but ironically it also seems to be one of his darkest hours, fighting with the movie studio, the censors and the distributors over how (and whether) to make and release "Psycho".  And then basically going rogue and making it the way he wanted, almost like an independent filmmaker would do today.  And in the middle of all this, he suspects his wife of infidelity, while having an eye for his leading ladies.

According to this film, his wife was faithful all along, she just wanted to work on side projects during the down times, and they reconcile in time for her to assist with the troubled production of "Psycho", proving that behind every successful man there is a supportive woman, although you may not see her, especially if the successful man is rather large.

Also according to this film, Hitchcock was obsessed with the story of Ed Gein (turns out it's pronounced "GEEN", but I always thought it was "GINE", I guess that's the American vs. German pronounciation of "EI")  We see fantasy sequences where Hitch imagines that he's talking to Ed, but honestly I didn't really think these brought much toward an understanding of the director.

These days, the making of any feature film, especially a blockbuster, is well documented.  I don't tend to watch them, but some people like the "behind the scenes" features on DVDs, but it's important to remember that they're a relatively new invention.  Nobody in the 1950's or 60's would have thought to film the director or the producers working, it was all about getting the proper image on the screen, and perhaps not revealing how it was all accomplished - so instead we have biopics like this one (and "RKO-281", for example).

Plus we learn that old Alfie was a bit of a perv, with little holes drilled in the wall so he could watch actresses get undressed.  I bet he used that line "Just call me Hitch, hold the cock" quite a bit.  The double-standard is pointed out here, where it's OK for him to get his jollies while his wife is expected to remain faithful.  That doesn't make him a bad man necessarily, just a product of his time.

I can easily draw a connection between Hitchcock and the director I work for - who recently had me trying to pack a film festival screening so there would be "riots" of people trying to get in.  I had to tell him this is quite impossible these days, because people all buy their tickets on line, and if the event sells out, then extra people just don't show up.  When I saw Hitchcock standing in the theater lobby, basking in the screams of the theater-goers, practically conducting them like a symphony, I thought of Bill Plympton, who essentially does the same, only with screams of laughter rather than screams of fright.

So, how do we learn more about Hitchcock?  For me, I'm going to start with the oldest film of his I can, and work my way through his catalogue, just like I did for Woody Allen.  I think I saw "Psycho" when I was a kid, but I had a kid's brain then, and I think it's probably worth a re-watch as an adult.  I've been listening to some of my favorite 80's bands recently, starting with their early albums and trying to pinpoint when their work started to go downhill.  Perhaps I'll find out where Hitchcock's low points and high points were, or the exact time when he sold out and went electric. 

Also starring Helen Mirren (last seen in "The Clearing"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Danny Huston (last seen in "Wrath of the Titans"), Toni Collette (last seen in "Fright Night"), Jessica Biel (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"), Kurtwood Smith (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Richard Portnow, with cameos from Ralph Macchio, Wallace Langham, Rene Auberjonois.

RATING: 6 out of 10 headshots

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hearts in Atlantis

Year 6, Day 118 - 4/28/14 - Movie #1,715

BEFORE: Almost done with the Anthony Hopkins chain, as he carries over from "The Remains of the Day".  It won't be long now...

This one came in to the collection much too late to be a proper part of the Stephen King chain.

THE PLOT:  A widowed mother and her son change when a mysterious stranger enters their lives.

AFTER: This is an adaptation of a nearly unfilmable book of Stephen King - a collection of five loosely interconnected stories, with references to King's "Dark Tower" series that would make no sense without an understanding of that 10+ (?) book series.   Wisely, the filmmakers chose to drop these references, and trim the storyline down to adapt only 2 of the 5 stories.  Unfortunately it seems like the original meaning of the title got lost along the way, so they had to jerry-rig another one. 

I kind of screwed up in anticipation of this one, I knew that the boarder played by Anthony Hopkins had some kind of secret, and I went out of my way to NOT read too much about the plot, because I didn't want to spoil the surprise.  But in doing so, I was placing too much emphasis on his secret, and so it built up in my mind to be much more important than it was supposed to be.  Plus, I spent most of the movie waiting for the secret to be revealed, rather than allowing things to play out in the relaxed manner intended.  Was this person the devil?  God?  Santa Claus?  Tell me his secret!  

I got so worked up about it, and spent so much time avoiding learning about it, that when it finally arrived, it was such a letdown from what I imagined - nothing could possibly live up to my imagining of how important this secret could be.

So I think I sort of couldn't see the forest for the trees, and didn't allow myself to relax and enjoy this little film for what it is, which is a quiet little coming-of-age film, with an anti-bullying and anti-rape message, all good things, and throw in a little conspiracy theory/shadowy secret agent types for good measure.  I was expecting "Needful Things", and I should have been looking for "Stand By Me".

Also starring Anton Yelchin (last heard in "The Pirates: Band of Misfits"), Hope Davis (last seen in "Real Steel"), David Morse (last seen in "Drive Angry"), Mika Boorem, Alan Tudyk (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Celia Weston (last seen in "Knight and Day"), Adam LeFevre, Timothy Reifsnyder.

RATING: 4 out of 10 stolen bases

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Remains of the Day

Year 6, Day 117 - 4/27/14 - Movie #1,714

BEFORE: OK, I took some time and scribbled the Hitchcock chain out on a calendar, and I'm satisfied enough with the results to move ahead with it, starting on Tuesday.  Some of those older films are shorter, which means I can double up twice and reduce my list more quickly, and it also gives me a plan that will take me almost all the way to my San Diego trip.  Plus if all goes well, it means that Movie #1800 will be a big one, like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" or "Amazing Spider-Man 2". 

Also, since some of the Hitchcock films are relatively short, it could give some more time each night to work on my comic-book collection.  I've got a few hundred books that need to be bagged, plus I started a massive re-sorting project about a year and a half ago that never got finished, I need to bring some more longboxes to storage, and then it will be time to get the new Overstreet guide and start updating the values of my collection on my spreadsheets again.  (Yes, this is how I used to spend much of my time before undertaking the Movie Year project). 

Anthony Hopkins carries over again, for Movie #3 in a 5-part chain. 

THE PLOT: A butler who sacrificed body and soul to service in the years post World War II realizes too late how misguided his loyalty has been.

AFTER: This is another of those films with a two-timeline structure: the "present" storyline picks up years after WW2, when a retired American congressman becomes the new owner of a British estate, and the manor's butler drives across England to try and get the previous housekeeper to return to service.  Throughout this process, we see flashbacks of the years gone by, and we learn about what went on there in the days leading up to the war, what caused the housekeeper to leave her job in the first place, and exactly what kind of chap this butler is, and isn't.

I still rally against this format, because it tends to lead to confusion if the two time periods are not clearly defined, it makes the viewer work to assemble the scenes into the proper order himself, and it usually covers up a weak story in one timeline or even both.  But at least here the editing trickery serves a purpose, as information about the past is slowly doled out over the years, apparently the mansion's previous owner was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer, so we're kept in suspense, looking for clues to support this, or dispute it.

In the meantime, we're also shown the relationship that develops over the years between the butler and the housekeeper - or, rather the one that never came about.  This is technically classified as a "romance", but to mean it seemed rather like the opposite.  I wasn't sure if Hopkins' butler was so dedicated to his job that he wouldn't allow himself to have a relationship with a co-worker, or whether in fact he lacked the experience, the mental software or the emotional capacity to even consider such a relationship.  I suppose in the end the result is the same, and you can choose whichever justification you prefer.

Then again, his character is British, so as we saw with his previous two characters earlier this week, there's much consideration over what is proper and what is not.  The Brits must be deathly afraid of putting themselves out there and being rejected, or worse, entering into a relationship and having others gossiping about it.  Oh, but giving Germany more military freedom and sticking up for Hitler, that's perfectly fine...

I sort of identify with the butler character in a weird way, having worked for so long for the same boss.  In the same way that Lord Darlington expects his butler to do certain things but to not have an opinion on political matters, I'm expected to do certain tasks, and not mention when I happen to see continuity mistakes in an animated film, for example.  And I'm similarly afraid that after too many years doing the same job, if something were to happen to my boss, I'd just go seek out the same job for a different person, just because I'm so used to it. 

Also starring Emma Thompson (also carrying over from "Howards End"), Christopher Reeve (last seen in "Speechless"), James Fox, Peter Vaughan, Hugh Grant (last heard in "The Pirates: Band of Misfits"), Ben Chaplin (last seen in "The New World"), Tim Piggott-Smith (last seen in "Quantum of Solace"), Michael Lonsdale (last seen in "Moonraker"), Lena Headey (last seen in "Ripley's Game"), with a cameo from Wolf Kahler (Col. Dietrich from "Raiders of the Lost Ark").

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of port