Showing posts with label classic hollywood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic hollywood. Show all posts

Friday, September 27, 2019

Judy (2019) Reminds Us Of the Woman Behind the Stardom

Biopics is one of the trickiest genres. Directors aim to pay homage to someone they admire or whose work speaks to them. But if a film exerts too much creative freedom, the story blurs lines between  fiction and reality. If creative pursuits are limited too much, reading a Wikipedia page would be more exciting. For an American icon like Judy Garland, there's more than enough exaggerated lore director Rupert Goold's Judy could've pulled from. And yet for the first time since the last salacious profile, the film finds a good balance between exploring the myth of Judy and showing the real side of her.

Based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, Judy covers the last year of the legend's rollercoaster life. Facing homelessness, bankruptcy, and a custody battle for her children, Judy Garland (Renee Zellweger) takes on a five-week engagement of sold-out shows at London's Talk of the Town. As she grapples with one more comeback and falls head over heels for a sketchy entrepreneur Mickey Deans (Finn Witrock), Garland struggles to keep her head above water as her final spotlight starts burning out.

With all that has been gossiped about Miss Showbusiness, how a biopic would grapple with her legacy is a question I've asked myself as a longtime fan of "Joots." At worst, I expected a repeat of scathing tell-alls that are more concerned with melodrama and anonymous sources; so much so that they ignore her humanity and tarnish her reputation. At best, I just wanted it to be better or just as good as other musical biopics. A well-organized, entertaining, and emotionally-driven tribute doesn't seem like a lot to ask for, but the last time I wished for a biopic of a favorite icon, I got Bohemian Rhapsody... To  my great delight, this film hits most of the right notes.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ranking The A Star Is Born Remakes

Ranking The A Star Is Born Remakes
The love between two artists surrounded in the midst of fame is a quintessential theme in cinema. But there's no other longstanding saga in Tinseltown than A Star Is Born: the tragic romance of a young starlet who is discovered by a legendary veteran; as the newbie's star ascends, the other one falls into oblivion. With the massive attention director Bradley Cooper's version is bringing to the older renditions, I thought it's the perfect time to rank the series from least favorite to favorite. Which A Star Is Born film is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wonder Women: Lisa Freemont in Rear Window (1964)

When one thinks about the intriguing elements of Alfred Hitchcock's filmography, the abundance of "icy blondes" he utilized throughout his career is hard to ignore. He worked with a myriad of starlets like Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, and Kim Novak, establishing them as femme fatales and victims on-screen. In celebrating Halloween by watching Rear Window, Grace Kelly's role as Lisa Freemont felt like a great character to highlight for my Wonder Women series.

Elegant and tenacious Grace Kelly dazzles in the classic thriller about an injured photographer L.B "Jeff" Jeffries (played by James Stewart) who's cocooned in his apartment and starts spying on his neighbors. Getting caught up in their own imaginations and theories, they suspect a grizzly murdered took place just across the street and try to prove their accusations to the authorities.

Throughout his career Hitchcock examined the themes of a seemingly perfect crime, and the morals that came along with the act in question. Like similar suspenseful films Marnie, Vertigo and Dial M for Murder, he also dabbled in the complications of marriage, singlehood, and the sexual tension between men and women. More prominently Rear Window, a tale of voyeurism and murder, offers a switch of gender roles where its independent and undaunted leading lady becomes the hero.

Friday, June 9, 2017

For Me and My Gal (1942); a splendid showcase for songstress Judy Garland

For Me and My Gal movie review
Directed by Busby Berkeley, known for his intricate choreography and majestic set pieces, creates a smaller-scale movie completely unattached to his typical extravaganzas. Recognized as a musical first, For Me And My Gal is also an underrated war movie. Fairly different from propaganda movies at the time, this film it didn't encourage joining the efforts or examining the effects of the military for veterans.

As a budding vaudevillian act, song and dance duo Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) and Henry Palmer (Gene Kelly) slowly fall in love as they tour the U.S.  in pursuit of making it to the big time. As World War I commences, and Palmer schemes his way to avoid the draft, breaking away from their dreams to perform at the front-lines threatens to tear them apart.

Released during a year where the most hailed film was Casablanca, this drama-musical subtly touches on showbiz and the war, and those who served their country or tried to evade service. Berkeley's change of film-making is well-done, going against what he was typically known for - he limited scenes, both dramatic and musical, to few camera angles; the score is buoyant and catchy, fitting into the era of vaudeville and "clowns with the baggy pants" for which the movie tributes itself to.

Earning top billing, Garland was twenty years old at the time and stuck by the studio powers-that-be to prove herself as a mature actress capable of more than slapstick or blooming romances. Just a year before, she starred as a teenager in Babes on Broadway alongside tween-pal Mickey Rooney, and wasn't yet the young woman swooning over her neighbor in Meet Me In St. Lous two years later. But Garland's range in song, dance, and acting can't be praised enough in making Hayden a mature, bubbly, and courageous character.

Hayden's primary romantic relationship may be with Palmer, but she also cares for her brother Danny, performing as a vaudeville star to put him through medical school. "No, I'm not good but I will be, someday," she says to Palmer, describing her own ambitions, which change after Danny enlists and she must sum up the courage to continue her dreams on a different path. The quiet moments when she is talking to him about his future, or seeing him leave for the frontlines, for perhaps the last time ever, offers a real weight to the film's war angle. It's not just a backdrop threatening to tear Hayden and Palmer apart, but something that affects her deeply. She might be the girl with a big voice, but Garland knew how to be subtle, both in breaking your heart and lifting your spirits.

The finest all-around performer we ever had in America was Judy Garland. There was no limit to her talent. She was the quickest, brightest person I ever worked with. - Gene Kelly

Unlike Hayden, Kelly's Palmer is harder to warm up to. As his screen debut, he delivers a good performance balancing an exuberant performer and self-absorbed opportunist. But his character isn't exactly someone to root for for Palmer. He over-exudes his ambition to be a big star, latching onto Hayden and admitting to treating her like a sap to leave her current troupe Jimmy Metcliffe (George Murphy) to be with him. For her own reasons, Hayden is head-over-heels for Palmer despite his  shady decision-making. There's a slight opportunity between Garland, Kelly, and Murphy for a bigger love triangle, but it's nixed halfway through to lengthen Palmer's attempts at redemption and reduce Murphy's presence. This is mostly due to script changes, where Hayden was originally was going to end up with "the nicest fella you'd ever meet" Jimmy. The shifts in the plot's tone creates a  conundrum of who you think she should end up with...

Garland, on her own has some beautiful sequences like in performing 'I Want a Beautiful Doll' alongside George Murphy, to a heartbreaking rendition of 'After You've Gone', and hamming it up for 'Down on the Farm'. As a pair, Garland and Kelly strut their collective talent in 'For Me and My Gal' and 'Ball in the Jack', and a few other charming numbers. In rightful measure, Kelly might be known as one of the greatest silver screen dancers ever, but Garland is arguably one of the many female stars who made you take notice of them almost more than their partners. It's a shame she never took notice of what a great triple threat she was.

Similar to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Garland and Kelly belong on screen together. Their chemistry matches perfectly, and arguably, this is the best-directed movie between the duo prior to critically-slammed The Pirate and entertaining but mismatched Summer Stock. Their shared exuberance and execution of songs and conflict might be due to the fact that Kelly was new in Hollywood and Garland took him under her wing. Their confidence, enthusiasm, and friendship jump from the screen. And as much as this puts Kelly on the map as his first feature film, Garland continued to prove her chops.

This post is my entry for Crystal's Judy Garland blogathon, where bloggers participated in celebrating Judy Garland's birthday on June 10th. She's my all-time favorite movie star, so it was a real treat to celebrate her in this way. Check out all of the amazing bloggers over at the official page here.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Feud (2017) Season 1 Review

Feud series review
Photo Credit: Feud / 20th Television
Having set a precedent for award-winning and binge-worthy shows, Ryan Murphy knows what it takes to make a drama. His latest creation Feud tackles notorious rivalries throughout history. It was fitting the first one tackles Joan Crawford and Bette Davis' famously bitter showdown.

After becoming Classic Hollywood screen queens, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis aged like the rest of humanity. With younger, hipper generations growing up on television as the studio system fell apart, their careers suffered dry spells. When Crawford initiated a project of two cruel sisters harboring jealousy and secrets in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, the claws came out. On-screen and behind-the-scenes, a real showdown was ignited between the duo by the studio and publicity hounds.

Legend has it that the two hated each other. Speculation around this rivalry float in every which direction, it’s hard to tell what’s the truth or was fictionalized. Adding more misdirection following the movie's release, the stars threw shade at each other in interviews only to retract them later. Instead of resorting to catty squabbles and Real Housewives-esque drama, Feud tries to ask what was the source of their hostility and why they couldn't let their resentments go.

Drawing on second-hand biographies and heresy within the industry, this version tries to be as well-rounded as possible. Even though every episode spurred sites to fact check what was true or elaborated, Murphy does a smart thing by indulging in news pieces but focused more on Crawford and Davis’ limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. He depicts an exceptional range of ageism, sexism, the pressure and manipulation they endured from Hollywood, and publicity that threatened to put the final nails in their professional coffins.

As much as they regarded each other as enemies, Crawford and Davis were more alike than they could've recognized. Personally, they suffered insecurities wrought by rejection, always wanting to be better. In love, they married multiple times, and as mothers never recovered from scathing autobiographies their daughters published, where Hollywood's elite, former spouses and friends of the actresses would decry as trash and lies. Professionally, they had different acting approaches. They maneuvered through the studio patriarchy as best as possible; both trying to transition "past their prime" as women and performers trying to not be remembered as a laughing stock, or nothing at all.  Despite what they had in common, they struggled to see each other as allies trying to live up to the fans expectation as well as their own.

To carry Murphy’s vision, Lange and Sarandon play Crawford and Davis, respectively. As veteran performers in their own right, they’re certainly perfect picks because of their range and experience. It’s difficult to replicate their characters' talent, but they managed to portray them enough in mannerisms and attitude. Each explores self-value within and out of Hollywood. As the studio drives a wedge between them, they're left to vilify each other to protect their glory days. If they reach out, it's almost in vain to their self-preservation. In doing so, they render determination and ballsiness but also great vulnerability.

Though Feud explores both titan's struggles with a well-studied range, it also takes too long to find its groove and never quite reaches the same palpable energy displayed in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. As a making-of feature, the attention to detail with the sets and costumes is extraordinary for the most part. Playing the role of Crawford and Davis off-screen from their Baby Jane characters is when Lange and Sarandon truly succeed. But put them in scenes recreating earlier work or Baby Jane, and their performances are bad copycats with cheap wigs and choppy line delivery. These small moments reinforcing what talents these women initially were doesn't match their brutal obscurity.

It's hard to imagine these icons created something so palpable as the real icons that it earned Oscar nominations and created a whole new genre by which other aging Tinseltown titans had to follow through with to stay alive too. By all means, Feud studies the legends we think we know, but we're still talking about the movie itself fifty-five years later not just because of the bloated rumors of what went on behind-the-scenes. No matter how relevant the blatant sexism and ageism in Hollywood, let alone society, still exists today, the talent of Crawford and Davis are undeniably brilliant, and on those recreation scenes, Feud misses the mark.

Primarily told in flashbacks within a fictional documentary, Murphy often employs other characters to reinforce his powerhouse leads. Some are needed, some are a pure distraction. Those connected to the main stars, such as Judy Davis as the spirited snake-in-the-grass Hedda Hopper and Alfred Molina as director Robert Aldrich caught in the middle, offer more direct sympathy. But when Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia DeHavilland and Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell, among others, intermittently pop up to offer commentary, they weakly reestablish what's already playing out. DeHavilland at least has a closer utilized friendship to Davis, while Blondell is just sorta there. As the last few episodes increasingly attempt to soften the vicious narrative created by Christina Crawford's autobiography Mommie Dearest, Davis' near identical issues aren't as greatly explored and the story starts to drop off into a heartwrenching and half-realized what-could've-been finale.

In 1962, Baby Jane revived two stars to younger generations, and fifty-five years later, Feud will re-introduce their work to even more people. It’s hard to watch the show and not want to watch the movie. That’s a very good thing. However, other than the script, and the exceptional performances, the series never quite reaches the level of palpable energy of its inspiration. Murphy's biopic of sorts intelligently swaps juicy gossip into a heartfelt catharsis, but also made me think there’s simply no way of capturing the original, and it’s okay for legends to just be that.

Rating: ☆ 
If you love Feud, you might like: 
Conversations with Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist
Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis by Whitney Stine

Have you seen Feud? What did you think?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Rome Adventure (1962) offers a languid visual treat

Rome Adventure movie review
Photo Credit: Rome Adventure / Warner Bros.
New England librarian Prudence Bell (Suzanne Pleshette) resigns from her school after she's criticized for recommending a racy book Lovers Must Learn as part of the curriculum. Yearning for independence and navigating the art of love, a cruise to Italy introduces more courtships than she expected - Albert Stillwell, a nerdy student of Etruscan history, older perfect Roman lover Roberto Orlandi (personally my favorite), and a perfect hunky All-American Don Porter (Troy Donahue).

As a melodramatic journey of 1960s morals about love, sex, and chivalry, Rome Adventure is a picturesque romantic drama. Trailing the ingenue through her experiences, the movie travels at a leisurely pace. Using Europe as a captivating backdrop, Bell weaves in and out of the nooks of crannies of not only the country but desire, attraction, and friendship.

Beyond the geographical and human eye-candy of the male co-stars, Suzanne Pleshette is absolutely charming, and hard to believe with her grace and maturity, just twenty-five years old. Not experienced in love or romance, her character learns a lot about herself as an individual and as someone else's half, which makes her relatable. She's challenged to re-evaluate her self-value passed pure sexual attraction, a glamorous wardrobe, or an ethereal sophistication. Pleshette's doesn't necessarily give a powerhouse performance, nor does the direction really call for it, but her subtle expressions convey so much, it's hard not to be completely hypnotized by her presence.

Though Bell's earnest dalliances are fairly predictable, she shares a variety of camaraderie and courtships with all of her encounters. The chemistry  that absolutely sizzle on-screen is between Pleshette and Donahue. So much so, it's not hard to believe they married in real life after filming wrapped, though their off-screen relationship only lasted eight months.

Besides Pleshette, the production design makes up for the story's languid pace. Every frame captures the rich landscape of Italy, Switzerland, and other European landmarks allowing the cinematography to completely take you away. Someone get me a travel agent and tell them I want the Rome Adventure tour. As well, the costume design is to-die-for. No matter how unhurried the movie might be, Bell's summer getaway prudently plants the same ideas that Italy can be the place to fall in love.

Contrary to the title, Rome Adventure doesn't have an exciting bone in its body. The story is, by all means, a steady, old-fashioned drama topped with a little bit of humor and sexuality. But the leading lady and production is what will sweep you off your feet.

Rating: ★★☆
Similar movies: Under The Tuscan Sun
Have you seen Rome Adventure? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Old Isn't Bad: Spreading the Love for Classic Film

Entering the film world in college, I expected to hob-knob with classmates over movies we loved, hated, seen recently, and so on. Disappointingly, I realized so many students don't actually like or even love movies - or if they do, so many have only seen newer releases from the past five, maybe ten years. Even more disappointing, is that teachers, as well as student, had a distaste for Classic Hollywood films, mostly because they are just old.

The disturbing trend about film is that apparently, it has an expiration date. Anything beyond 2005, or 2000, or sustains a Star Wars-like reputation, is not worthy or interesting to watch.

In and out of the classroom what is disheartening is not only the lack of interest in classic films but the disconnection of what they are: out of date, not worthwhile, useless. So, I'd like to put an end to the stigma about older films with these simple steps.

1. Don't Add 'Well It is OLD'. With Facebook status posts and tweets every nanosecond, often my generation likes to go for what is new, current, and so not fifty years ago. If you add 'It's Old', or the old 'Back in my day, kid', our attention is lost. There's no need to make a big deal about age - whether it is relatively young or entering it's senior years.

2. Don't be surprised if they haven't seen it. Ever not listen to a certain type of music or never gone skydiving, and made to feel like you are the biggest outcast in the world for having missed out on that once-in-a-lifetime, life enhancing opportunity? Yeah, when you mention a classic film someone hasn't seen, don't go for the big gasp, hand to the forehead, "Oh my gosh, you haven't?! WHY NOT?!". You just turned a potential fan into someone carrying a sour attitude towards classics forever.

3. Share but do not preach. John Brunner once said, "There are two kinds of fool. One says, 'This is old, and therefore good.' And one says, 'This is new, and therefore better.'" When we talk about classic films, there's no need to go off into film lingo about the production, cast, etc. To a fan who hasn't seen many classic films, talk about them like you always do with a movie you just watched last weekend; conversational and fun.

4. Tell them where to go. Old Hollywood films are rare but don't have to be completely dismissable. Suggest where they can be watched. Turner Classic Movie channel plays all classic genres uncut and commercial free. Suggest your friends to check out The Essentials to ease their way into the genre. There's also Netflix, Amazon, and even YouTube. Try to sound like the movies can be at your friends' fingertips ready to watched like so many modern movies are.

5. Don't be ashamed. I'm often guilty of this. When talking to other students, and they have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, I'm often interrogated about why do I like classic films, aren't they in black and white and so on... Well, yes, they are. Soon I'm shamed or quieted because other students find it weird I like older movies. Simply, don't! Share your love for them when you can...and don't make a big deal that they are old(er).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

14 Actors I'd Like to See on TCM Summer Under The Stars

Turner Classic Movie channel airs classic films from the inception of cinema to the early 1980s - uncut and commercial free. In August every day is dedicated to a unique movie star with a 24-hour marathon. August 1st may center around Vivien Leigh, August 2nd Elvis Presley, and so on.

My mother raised me with Classic Hollywood film, but mainstream entertainment is a passion too. It's nearly impossible to divide which era of Hollywood is favorable or better because I "live" in both worlds. This often brings up the question: which actors from today, or near-today's, film generation may be featured in the future.

Currently, TCM's selection of films revolves around old Hollywood with varying degrees of recent movies that earned recognition at the Academy Awards. As I grow older, I hope their collection expands including modern films which still upholds what it means to be a time-honored classic and is worthy enough to be on their programming. Tons of favorite actors I wish could be included on this list but that would make it miles long. To start off: here are 14 modern actors I'd like to see featured on a future TCM's Summer Under the Stars.