Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Joan Crawford Blogathon

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood has another blogathon up and running, this one being about Academy Award winner Lucille LeSueur -- sorry, Joan Crawford. To some, her reputation has been ruined thanks to what her adopted daughter wrote about her in the infamous Mommie Dearest. But many (myself including) don't believe these claims, preferring instead to focus on her professional life more than her private one.

Anyway, with most of her more famed works being claimed left and right, I opted for a lesser-known work of hers. Which one, you ask?

(1941, dir. George Cukor)

Why this one? Compared to some of her other works from this time, this one sometimes gets shrugged off. Hopefully by post's end you'll be seeking it out. (I'll try not to give away too much about it.)

Monday, July 25, 2016


Joanna Hogg's Unrelated opens with Anna (Kathryn Worth) arriving at her friend's vacation home in Tuscany, a temporary escape from her crumbling marriage. The shot of her standing alone with her luggage establishes who she is: the outsider looking in.

Indeed there are a number of shots throughout Unrelated (keenly framed by cinematographer Oliver Curtis) that show Anna by her lonesome. Even when she's with other people, she's captured in a way that makes her look like she isn't welcome. This detail defines her character arc.

Unrelated also shows Anna's attempt to regain a sense of youthfulness during her vacation. She spends more time with her friends' children than them, and revels in their bouts of debauchery. But it's only a matter of time before reality kicks in for her.

Like many other women directors before her, Hogg chronicles the ever-present fear of aging found in fictional women. As with their real-life counterparts, they know that it's only a matter of time before they become less desirable. (Though here's a question: why is it that men are the only ones depicted in making the most of their mid-life crises?)

Unrelated isn't unique in its story but Hogg adds another chapter to a familiar story. A passage from Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier best sums up what Anna is going through: "We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist."

My Rating: ****


If there's one director whose name is synonymous with mind fuckery, it's easily David Lynch. His bizarre sense of imagination has proven popular for nearly forty years in both film and television. But does his work hold up after all these years?

In the case of his debut Eraserhead, its surreal nature hasn't lost its edge in the many years of its existence. Lynch would have the likes of Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive in the years to come but their roots could be traced back to his first film.

Despite all its weird aspects, it's clear that Eraserhead basically a depiction of the sense of fear that follows becoming a new parent. (Worth mentioning that Lynch himself wouldn't become a father for a few more years.)

There's something about the use of white noise throughout Eraserhead that makes it more unsettling than it already is. (And that's saying a lot.) As if the images Lynch captures aren't nightmare-inducing enough (looking at you, freaky-sounding baby), he has to make it sound just as creepy. (That's one way to let your audience know what they're in store for.)

Eraserhead is strange on so many levels, you begin to wonder how many heavy narcotics Lynch was under the influence of when making it. (Astonishingly, none.) And at the same time, there's a sense of brilliance to it as well. (In short, watch this completely sober; watching it under the influence might result in a crisis of some sort.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Frequently one's debut provides insight into what to expect from potential future works. Whether it's a recurring theme or a character type, it tends to establish the creator's sense of, well, creativity.

In regards with Whit Stillman's Metropolitan, it captures the difference in class and how they're perceived by the varying classes. (Basically it's The Great Gatsby in the era of yuppies.) Sure, it might sound borderline obnoxious but Stillman ensures that it isn't.

Within the small soirees of the Sally Fowler Rat Pack, Metropolitan depicts a group of people disillusioned by their own generation. (Hey, it's not just with this generation.) Bearing the weight of the previous one, they struggle to make names for themselves. (Who would've thought Stillman managed to foretell the millennials?)

As well as being a (then) contemporary version of The Great Gatsby, Metropolitan also has Jane Austen as an influence. The views on society, the varying romantic entanglements, how women are perceived...all are aspects commonly found in the author's works. (Apparently she left enough of an impact on Stillman for him to adapt one of her works twenty-six years later.)

Metropolitan may not be everyone's cup of tea (there are some moments reminiscent of your average Noah Baumbach film) but Stillman makes sure all of its 98 minutes work. (They do.) Now to see if his later films meet the same caliber...

My Rating: ****

Star Trek Beyond

In 2009,  J.J. Abrams wowed moviegoers with his Star Trek reboot. Its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness was also successful but once it all settled down, reception was mixed at best. Unsurprisingly its box office receipts resulted in planning another sequel.

But with Abrams being busy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and the writers doing...something else), he handed the directing duties to Justin Lin. (Writing duties went to Simon Pegg and Dong Jung.) And it's because of this changing of the guard that Star Trek Beyond benefits greatly.

Indeed the general feel of Star Trek Beyond is much more like the original TV series than the first two films even tried to be. It has the characterizations and sense of equality that Gene Roddenberry worked out fifty years ago. Clearly he would've approved of this variation of his famous work.

That said, Star Trek Beyond isn't perfect. In its attempt to appease the older Trekkies, it sacrifices the potential in its villain, something its two predecessors made sure to avoid. And like some episodes of the original series, the plot wears a bit thin after a while.

Still, Lin provides a nice change of pace from what Abrams previously offered. Star Trek Beyond will surely please Trekkies of any age. (It also has a touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy and -- albeit unintentionally -- a memorial to Anton Yelchin.) So be sure to see it.

My Rating: ****

Friday, July 22, 2016


It's safe to say that those unfamiliar with Todd Solondz's work will be in store for some rude awakenings with his latest film Wiener-Dog. It has a blunt and very dark sense of humor to it. But as strange as this might sound, it also has some heart to it as well.

Well, the latter is to be expected given the plot (it follows a dachshund as it goes from owner to owner) but if you're familiar with Solondz's earlier films, it isn't so clean cut as it seems. But as the more adept filmmakers show with their works, there's more to the story.

Told through four vignettes (one of which has a connection to Solondz's earlier film Welcome to the Dollhouse), Wiener-Dog is a story set within middle class America. It depicts the everyday lives of your run of the mill people. But all of these characters have their aspirations, only for them to be cruelly crushed by reality.

But where does the element of heart come in? Indeed it's certainly not something one would expect from Solondz but it works here in Wiener-Dog. Even when all seems lost for some of the characters, there's that faint glimmer of possibility for them.

By no means should Wiener-Dog be your introduction to Solondz but that doesn't imply that you should avoid it altogether. An ideal choice for those who like their comedy as dark as ink. (And boy, it gets really dark in the final third.)

My Rating: ****1/2

The Innocents

Set in the months after World War II's end, Anne Fontaine's The Innocents opens with Polish nuns singing hymns. The relative calm of this scene is shattered by a piercing scream somewhere else in the convent. It's this scene that establishes the film's unflinching nature.

There have been a number of films set in World War II's aftermath but The Innocents is different. Rather than the soldiers coming home after years of bloodshed, it focuses on the civilians who are still recovering emotionally from recent atrocities. And these are people that didn't have the resources to defend themselves.

What also makes The Innocents stand out is that its production crew is predominately female. Very seldom do films that are both harsh and gentle are made with a feminine touch. (Honestly, we need more films of such a nature.)

Fontaine and cinematographer Caroline Champetier capture some indelible images throughout The Innocents. Similar to Ida (which coincidentally also features Agata Kulesza), it focuses on the harsh outdoors and the (sometimes) more intimate interiors. It's a precise detail that only those more connected to the story they're creating will add.

The Innocents is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking. Each frame tells a story by itself but when combined, it leads to something stunning. Be sure to see this on a big screen just to take in Champetier's work.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

In contrast to his most infamous film In the Realm of the Senses, Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is much more subdued in many ways. Certainly not the first thought that comes to mind when you see who's amongst the cast (two pop stars and a Japanese comic actor). Yet Oshima makes it work.

The pop stars in question are David Bowie (as a prisoner of war) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (as the commandant) while the comic actor is Takeshi (as a brutal guard). These bits of eclectic casting might seem strange at first glance but Oshima utilizes all three of them to the fullest extent. (As he does with Tom Conti as the titular Mr. Lawrence.)

Set at a Japanese POW camp, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence bears some resemblance to The Bridge on the River Kwai in its characterizations of the British and Japanese characters. The British are reserved even while undergoing torture while the Japanese are merciless. In regards with The Bridge on the River Kwai, it was from a British perspective. Maybe Oshima was just following conventions?

Back to Bowie for a moment. This was made at a time where his potential as an actor was starting to be considered more seriously. (He had just done a run on Broadway in The Elephant Man when he was cast in this.) His work in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence proved that he could act if he had the right script.

Indeed Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence doesn't have the shock value like some of Oshima's other films but that's not the point of it. It's a depiction of war and its two sides.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The biopic is a fickle genre for one to tackle. There's always the fear of embellishing details or leaving the more crucial ones out. What extent of one's life story can be told to the masses? And how much of it is actual fact?

And often times biopics fall into two categories: the personal lives and the achievements. The personal lives ones focus on the subject behind closed doors while the achievements ones focus on what made them famous (or infamous). Very seldom do the two merge into one, and sometimes that's a good thing.

In regards with Brian Gilbert's Wilde, there is some overlap in a few scenes but not enough to have it stand out from other titles of the genre. Chronicling the then-scandalous private life of writer Oscar Wilde (a well-cast Stephen Fry), it mostly focuses on his relationship with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (a boyish Jude Law). But there's more to the film than the forbidden romance.

Gilbert also depicts the society Wilde is set in as an unkind one to those who go against the grain. There's truth in this since it was a time when homosexuality was only recently deemed ineligible for capital punishment. The laws might have changed since then but some of the attitudes haven't faded into history.

Though flawed, Wilde chronicles the rise and fall of one of the great writers of the nineteenth century. Like Alan Turing decades later, Wilde was a victim of harsh prejudice and died a broken man. At least there's some solace in his work has been vindicated over time and the scandal that sent him to an early grave is treated as nothing more than a massive blight on part of Britain's legal system.

My Rating: ****

Friday, July 15, 2016

Swiss Army Man

It doesn't take long for Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan's Swiss Army Man to establish itself as something outside of the norm. Indeed it's a deviation of the usual summer movie fare but to what end? Well, for their debut feature, it's clear that the Daniels were influence by a few select names.

The first influence of Swiss Army Man is David Lynch, the reason bring its plot. (The main interactions are between a shipwrecked man and a corpse, for Pete's sake.) The surreal nature of it all seems strange at first glance but as the film wears on, a weird sense of normalcy starts to kick in.

The second influence is the Farrelly Brothers, the reason being the occasionally juvenile sense of humor throughout Swiss Army Man. Admittedly such humor could deflate a film but the Daniels make sure not to overdo it. (Also this type of humor is used by someone with a faint grasp of social skills.)

Spike Jonze provides the final influence for Swiss Army Man, the reason being its sense of wonder towards life. Sometimes you find amazement in the small things, the ones everyone else tend to take for granted. It's a reminder to appreciate the world you a part of for only a short while.

Swiss Army Man has a few bumps in the road (primarily the whole "love from a distance" subplot) but it still works overall. Thanks to the work from Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, it's an original work amid a sea of adaptations and sequels. (Is it that hard to create something unique in Hollywood nowadays?)

My Rating: ****1/2

BOOK VS MOVIE: Our Kind of Traitor

Who doesn't like a good thriller? It can be just the thing to remedy your everyday routine. After all, there's a good chance you might not encounter such things on a regular basis.

John le Carré on the other hand did encounter such things during his time in British Intelligence and in the decades following him serving his country, he wrote immensely about espionage in his fiction. And even with the changing times, his novels remain popular.

Our Kind of Traitor, one of his more recent publications, depicts a society in the aftermath of economic crisis. (It was published not long after the recent recession.) And le Carré pens a thriller that depicts a corrupt global economy, the kind where blood is on both the money and the hands that hold it.

Susanna White's adaptation, however, gets rids of that element and the film suffers as a result. What results is your average conspiracy thriller with a few bits of action thrown in good measure. It's clear that White had a lot of driving ambition for this but not enough to make it work in its entirety.

It doesn't take much to see which version of Our Kind of Traitor is superior. On the one hand, you have to admire the eagerness White displays in nearly every frame. But in comparison to other le Carré adaptations like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it lacks that sense of focus. Hopefully her next work will make up for it.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Sword and Sandal Blogathon

Debbie of Moon in Gemini is hosting a blogathon covering the many epics that dominated the movie theaters throughout the fifties and sixties. Having only seen a select few of this particular genre, I opted for a more unconventional title. Which one was it?

(1958, dir. Richard Fleischer)

Having seen this for the first time only a few months ago, I wasn't expecting too much from this. (Okay, except for it to be worth my time.) So what did I think of it? Well, that starts after the jump.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

As he showed as co-director of What We Do in the Shadows, Taika Waititi proved he was capable of telling a good story. But how well has he fared with his follow-up film Hunt for the Wilderpeople? From the trailer alone, you can tell it'll be fun but there's more to it.

In a way, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is almost like the New Zealand equivalent of The Defiant Ones. The leads for both films are of different temperaments which creates conflict early on. But once they get used to each other, a bond of sorts forms.

Come to think of it, there are a few similarities between Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Defiant Ones. As well as the two leads being on the run from the law, there's the law itself being determined to get their men. The main difference is that Paula (Rachel House) is more driven in being victorious.

What Waititi also shows in Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a sense of adventure. Not since The Lord of the Rings the previous decade has New Zealand been used as an effective backdrop. After all, it would be so easy to get lost in that wilderness.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delight. While it doesn't have the same amount of laughs as What We Do in the Shadows, it makes up by having a lot of heart. Oh, and the many reaction shots from Sam Neill are everything.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, July 8, 2016

Like Crazy

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But Drake Doremus' Like Crazy shows, that's not always the case. If anything, the relationship between Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and Anna (Felicity Jones) starts to fracture whenever they're apart. But is there any hope for them?

Much like Blue Valentine released the year before, Like Crazy chronicles the rise and decline of a romantic relationship. And while not as stinging as Derek Cianfrance's film, there are moments in Doremus' film that pack a punch. (Safe to say that neither of these titles are ideal date movies.)

As proved with her Oscar-nominated performance in The Theory of Everything three years later, Jones shows her viability as an actress in Like Crazy. Anna's lines and behavior don't feel forced on Jones' part (a good thing, no doubt) as she manages a capable life. Hopefully this potential from Jones won't go to waste.

Sadly we were just beginning to see what Yelchin was capable of as an actor before his life was suddenly taken away from the world last month, leaving behind a number of "what if" scenarios. Would he have become an Oscar nominee (or even winner) had he continued with diverse projects? We may never know now.

Back to Like Crazy. It's a quiet examination on how fleeting young love can be. We think that once we meet that one person all other aspects of life will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle. But sometimes those pieces don't fit or they're from something else. (And boy, that last scene is a doozy.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Gregory's Girl

Ah, the coming of age genre. The one that examines the many awakenings one encounters during their youth. Frequently the main awakening is one of a sexual nature but sometimes (far the sake of reaching a wider audience) the tamer equivalent comes into play.

The latter is on full display in Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl. Focusing on the titular Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) as he tries to survive sixth form, it's a step up from the numerous high school-set films of the 1980s in that there's more personality within the characters.

As Forsyth would do two years later with Local Hero, Gregory's Girl depicts an array of character types, showing that no two people are truly alike. (Casual side note there, aspiring writers.) But like his follow-up film, Forsyth has a sense of unity within these characters.

As stated earlier, Gregory's Girl was released at the beginning of an era of high school films, an era where young stars became household names. Sinclair, who was also in Forsyth's debut That Sinking Feeling, captures Gregory's many plights with ease. (And unlike the stars of most high school films, Sinclair was a teenager when he made the film.)

Gregory's Girl is an endearing work. It could make one nostalgic for their teenage years (as well as grateful that they're no longer living them). It's a title that one should seek out at least once.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Truly, Madly, Deeply

Sometimes there are those films that become hard to watch in light of an actor's passing. Dead Poets Society becomes more heartbreaking following Robin Williams' suicide as does the Liam Neeson storyline in Love Actually in light of Natasha Richardson's accident. A sense of discomfort passes through as we watch Philip Seymour Hoffman age in Synecdoche, New York.

In regards with Anthony Minghella's Truly, Madly, Deeply, it can be hard to watch Alan Rickman's performance now. Why? His character Jamie returns to his girlfriend Nina (Juliet Stevenson) after his death. But at the same time, there's an added sense of poignancy within Rickman's work.

With Truly, Madly, Deeply being a film about grieving, it shows how hard it can be for someone to move on after a loss. Some struggle to carry on as before, others resort to drastic means to numb the pain. But soon they learn to live with the loss.

Minghella also shows Truly, Madly, Deeply as a story on how hope isn't lost when all looks bleak. Yes, you may feel as though there's no end in sight to your pain. But just remember that while the good times might end suddenly, so too can the bad times.

Truly, Madly, Deeply shows how sometimes in grieving one tries their best to remember the deceased's better qualities. But the element of nostalgia may cast over the deceased's actual personality. There's nothing wrong in remembering the bad times as well as the good. After all, life is full of both of these.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


It's clear early on in Atom Egoyan's Exotica that it'll be a complex work. When we first see Francis (Bruce Greenwood), it's our insight into the minds of the film's characters. (And it's not so clean cut.)

Francis becomes fixated on exotic dancer Christina (Mia Kirshner) as does her ex-boyfriend Eric (Elias Koteas). As fiction often shows, fixation often leads to something unhealthy. And that in turn leads to something you can't take back. (Enflamed passions rarely result in anything good.)

Much like Egoyan's follow-up film The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica shines a light on people that at first glance have no real connection to each other. But Egoyan shows there's more than meets the eye. These supposedly unconnected characters have their own secrets and demons.

And also like The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica is a very layered film. What appears at first glance to be a story of broken people soon blossoms into an intimate portrait of discovery. (Even if said discovery leads to the dark corners of one's mind.)

Exotica is more than what the title implies. It's about broken people trying to heal but they wear their flaws on their sleeves. It depicts us as a species that would rather hide behind a mask of confidence than admit the truth. But to quote the final like of Some Like It Hot, nobody's perfect.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, July 4, 2016


If there's one very unlikely subject matter for your average musical, it's history itself. Sure, there have been those not set in the present day but few actually set historical events to music. (Then again, we have been treated to the likes of Hamilton over the last year.)

But forty-six years before Hamilton hit Broadway, another musical with a historic backdrop made its presence known. That musical was 1776. Focusing on the Declaration of Independence's creation, it has a wit to it that's usually lacking in more serious works of this nature. (That's a narrow field to begin with.)

Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards' play chronicles the tense moments that went into America's creation. (Hey, it wasn't as clean cut as the history books claim.) With Edwards' history major in use, the two dramatized (and set to music) the events that went towards the signing of a historic document. (Oh, and taking a few jabs at the politics of their time.)

A few exceptions aside, Peter H. Hunt's adaptation recruits a number of people associated with the original production (including Hunt himself). Adding some small touches from the source material, the film has a more playful (pun not intended) nature to it. And to no surprise, William Daniels carries the whole show away.

In regards to which version of 1776 is better, it's hard to narrow it down. Stone and Edwards' play has the whole script in front of you while Hunt's film has the advantage of music. (It's not easy reading a musical without knowing how the numbers go.) That said, the choice is easy.

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon

This past Friday two-time Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland turned 100, a rare feat amongst many people of Hollywood. And to celebrate, Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies are hosting a blogathon. I decided to be a little adventurous for my contribution by covering the eight films de Havilland did with Errol Flynn.

Flynn and de Havilland's octet of films often had their characters follow the same formula: he's the dashing leading man (often in tights, uniform or tight pants), she can't stand him upon first impression and by film's end, she can't stand to be without him. (Can you blame her?) Those eight films, by the way, are:

(1935, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1936, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1938, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1938, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1939, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1939, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1940, dir. Michael Curtiz)
(1941, dir. Raoul Walsh)

More after the jump!