August 2020 Quickie Reviews

August 2020 Breakdown
  • 36 films/series total
  • 20 new classic films
  • 4 Sylvia Sydney films
  • 3 documentaries
  • 3 TV series
  • 1 foreign films/series

Biggest Disappointment: The Rules of the Game, His Double Life

Walter Pidgeon, Deanna Durbin & Kay Francis in It’s a Date

Favorite Discovery: Swallows and Amazons, It’s a Date

Central Intelligence (2016) – Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart may be my new favorite bromance. I enjoyed their banter and friendly chemistry in this movie about former classmates who reconnect when Johnson requests Hart’s help on a CIA case. I did feel Johnson’s agent character was a bit odd, but otherwise I was really entertained.

Bernie (2011) – What an interesting little picture. This was filmed in my neck of the woods and based on a true story about a well-liked member of a community who kills the richest, meanest woman in town. It was a sort of mockumentary – dramedy mashup which was well-performed by Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Texas native Matthew McConoughey. While there is some definite stereo-typing of small towns and the characters who inhabit them, this film still did a good job portraying the culture of the area where I grew up.

The Hustle (2019) – I have mixed feelings about this re-worked female version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It was entertaining and beautiful. However,  I’ve finally realized that I don’t find Anne Hathaway likable as an actress. And Rebel Wilson seems to play the same character over and over as she does here. Still, I did love all the little twists and the gorgeous French setting.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) – Full of campy violence and serious special effects, this spy film, kept me entertained. I will watch anything with Colin Firth, but it was Taron Egerton as main character Eggsy who really caught my eye. There’s something compelling about his performance as a troubled kid turned highly trained spy.

The Amazing Adventure (1936) – It has been long enough since I watched this Cary Grant feature, that I had forgotten most of it. I love the story about a bored millionaire who is challenged to live without his money for an entire year. And this pre-super stardom Grant is beautiful on screen. The transitions between scenes were very choppy and the quality of the film was fuzzy at times. But I still recommend it for Grant’s presence and the story.

Barefoot in the Park (1967) – This picture about two newlyweds, one free-spirited, the other more reserved and conservative is simply charming. With the gorgeous Jane Fonda and Robert Redford playing the leads and the autumnal setting of NYC in the 60’s, who wouldn’t like it? This repeated viewing left me feeling a bit annoyed with Fonda’s dramatic character. But I did appreciate the supporting roles of her mother and quirky upstairs neighbor more than I remembered.

Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) – Another Jane Fonda film, I  first saw the remake of this with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni I t’s about a middle class suburban couple who turn to robbery when all other means of financially supporting themselves dry up.  I really wanted to like this movie better. However, I think the late 70’s aesthetic was a real turn-off for me. It was rather a treat to see Ed McMahon (who I remembered from Star Search) in a supporting role.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) – While this retained a lot of what made the first film good, I didn’t enjoy it as much. The violence was too over the top for me this time and I wasn’t as crazy about the story line or the villainess. Plus, Halle Berry was severely under-utilized. But I did love the role Mark Strong played in this sequel.

Please Believe Me (1950) – I usually find Deborah Kerr rather remote and chilly onscreen. Not so here, where she plays a new heiress with three different men pursuing her. The story has been done better elsewhere, but Kerr is so delightful in her role, and has a strong supporting cast in the men, including Robert Walker and Peter Lawford. It’s nothing too special, but still worth watching.

Howards End (2017) – Beautifully filmed with a great cast who give understated performance. However, I had a hard time connecting with the characters. The only two I cared about were the Schlegel sisters. But I couldn’t understand why they bothered with the other characters at all. I was really unhappy with the choice of one of them to marry a man who patronized her.

Swallows and Amazons (2016) – I loved this adorable film about a group of siblings and their summer adventures playing pirates. The casting was great, the scenery beautiful and the story full of adult moments while also being innocent and fun.  I was absolutely charmed and will definitely watch this again. It’s one of those “comfort films” for me.

You Only Live Once (1938) – I’m a big fan of the underrated Sylvia Sydney. Thankfully, TCM chose to honor her with a full day of her films in this year’s Summer Under the Stars. This one is directed by Fritz Lang who also directed her in the incredible movie Fury. It’s not her best role as a lovesick wife who sticks with her criminal husband to the bitter end. Her character lacked development. But the worst of it is I just didn’t find Henry Fonda believable as a former convict trying to go straight. The story itself however is one with impact that really leaves the viewer pondering serious moral questions.

Sinatra in Palm Springs (2018) – Though I’m a fan of Sinatra’s music, I know only a little about his personal life and even less about Palm Springs. The presentation was engaging and I really enjoyed hearing about Sinatra from people who knew him personally. I was surprised to learn how philanthropic he was. The documentary’s time was equally split between the history of Palm Springs and Sinatra himself, but blended the two subjects together beautifully.

You and Me (1938) – A very enjoyable performance by Sylvia Sydney as a former convict who marries another former convict, both of whom are living a reformed life. The development of her character is well done and really builds until her strength is revealed in a surprising way. George Raft is also rather good as her husband in this third collaboration between Sydney and director Fritz Lang.

Embraceable You (1948) – In some ways, this reminds me of the tragically beautiful One Way Passage. It has pathos, romance, sweetness, and a fabulous performance by Dane Clark. He emotes so much through his eyes and facial expressions as a man who is trying to make up for a wrong and in the process falls in love with the woman he hurt.

It’s a Date (1940) – Of the few Deanna Durbin movies I’ve seen, I like her best in this one. She’s adorable and charming as a young woman competing with her mother for the same stage role and man. It doesn’t hurt that her co-stars are Kay Francis and Walter Pigeon. It was a lot of fun.

The Rules of the Game (1939) This French classic directed by Jean Renoir is highly praised. But I feel like I do when I read literature classics – underwhelmed. I guess my taste varies widely from the experts. It was well made, but none of the characters appealed to me and I didn’t understand their motivations or actions. I’m really starting to feel that classic foreign films (other than comedies) are not for me.

Jack Lemmon: America’s Everyman (1996) – The quality of this documentary is not the best, however, I did appreciate that it included interviews with Lemmon himself, his son and others who knew and/or worked with him. I was disappointed not to learn a bit more about his personal life. I also wish it had featured some of his experiences on his less successful films.

Down to Earth (1947) – Rita Hayworth shines in this mediocre musical sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Even Larry Parks looks more alive in her presence. Filmed in technicolor, the colors are vibrant and add to Hayworth’s charm and beauty. The musical numbers were forgettable and could have been trimmed. But considering my low expectations going in, I was pleasantly surprised.

Thirty Day Princess (1934) – Having seen this only once a long time ago, I really enjoyed re-visiting it. It’s a nice change to see Sylvia Sidney in a comedy, playing dual roles as a princess and her actress doppelganger. Cary Grant is gorgeous, but still a bit unpolished this early in his career.

Endeavour Season 7 While I’m thrilled Endeavour’s mustache from season 6 is gone, I didn’t like him being at odds with his mentor, Thursday. Last season had a redemptive arc that this season is missing. It feels darker and much less hopeful. And sadly….no Joan. The writing and musical score are still fabulous, but it feels like Endeavour is becoming more emotionally isolated.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) – What is it about Mickey Rooney that is so appealing on screen? He’s just so gosh darn likable. I actually watched this for Lana Turner who’s talent is still in its’ beginning stages here. This is the second film pairing of Rooney and Judy Garland and their chemistry is charming.

The Key (1934) – A love triangle and  the fight for Irish independence and still the only thing of interest in this movie is William Powell. The leading lady is bland enough that I can’t figure out why the two men would be head over heels for her. Powell’s normal insouciant attitude is better suited to his comedies, but it makes this silly drama bearable.

Madame du Barry  (1934)– A very fictionalized story of Louis XV famous royal mistress. It’s pretty much solely a showcase for the beautiful Dolores del Rio and her even more beautiful costumes.  There is virtually no character development or true story line, but it is a feast for the eyes.

Slim Aarons: The High Life (2016) – I went into this documentary completely blind, never having heard of Slim Aarons before. The argument about the influence of his photographic images is well made and convincing. However, it failed to create in me a connection or interest in the man himself.

His Double Life (1933) – Being a fan of character actor Roland Young, I felt this role starring him as a reclusive artist who is mistaken for his dead valet would be a safe bet. The poor visual and audial quality of this film very much detracted from my enjoyment. The images were blurred, so I couldn’t see the actors’ expressions. I kept mistaking Lillian Gish for Zazu Pitts! The story had potential, but just wasn’t well-executed.

A Man to Remember (1938) – This is exactly the kind of cinematic story I love – that of the unsung, sacrificial everyday hero.  I liked this remake much better than the original One Man’s Journey, possibly because the film quality was better. Even though Lionel Barrymore’s performance in the original is fine, the lesser star quality performance of Edward Ellis better suits the title character who is a doctor.  Anne Shirley continues to grow on me the more I see her onscreen. Here, she is very sweet, but not without backbone as the adopted daughter. Unfortunately, both films suffer from weak performances in the supporting role of the doctor’s son.

M’Liss (1936) – Another appealing performance by Anne Shirley as a feisty tomboy who falls for her teacher. Unfortunately the teacher is played by John Beal who is dull as dishwayer. This story has been done before (ex. Katharine Hepburn in Spitfire) but Shirley gives the character sincerity as the young woman on the cusp adulthood.

The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) – I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for Marilyn Monroe lately. She’s absolutely charming here and the best part about this film. I’ve never really understood the praise certain actors like Lawrence Olivier (Spencer Tracy is another) receive and felt he over-acted in his role.

Man Bait (1952) -A mediocre crime drama about a married man who gets mixed up in blackmail and murder.  It stars one of my personal favorites, George Brent, who gives an underwhelming performance. The women of this films provide the most interest, but otherwise it was a bit of a slog for me.

San Antonio (1945) – I love Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling even in Westerns like this one. He’s so irreverent and devil-may care with that twinkle in his eye and the flirty grin. I generally find Alexis Smith dull, but Flynn manages to generate some chemistry with her here. This runs a little long, but is a fun picture.

An American Tragedy (1931) – Though less glitzy and polished than it’s later remake A Place in the Sun, this one feeI ls more real. Perhaps, because it focuses on the story and not on the larger than life personalities of the actors.  I was really invested in this movie, until it got bogged down with a very long trial sequence.

Eternally Yours (1939) – A cute little palate cleanser, this silly comedy is not meant to be taken seriously. David Niven and Loretta Young display great chemistry and are adorable as newlyweds who split over his dangerous job. I wish Eve Arden and a few other supporting actors had been given more screen time.

The Sand Pebbles (1966) – Very few actors can command my attention for a three hour span, but Steve McQueen is one of them. He gives an outstanding performance in this war drama set in 1920’s China, which really is rather bleak. But it serves its’ purpose and really makes one question the cost of war, though I don’t know that I would sit through it again.

The Lost Husband (2020)– This Netflix version of a Hallmark film stars Leslie Bibb as a grieving widow and mother who is trying to rebuild her life. It has a slow pace and doesn’t really do the deep dive into her grief and past like I would have liked, but is still rather good.

Good Girls Revolt (2015) – So, the production values on this Amazon original series were great. I thought it was well-cast, well-acted and generally managed to capture the era of 1969-1970 fairly well. However, I’ve never been a fan of that era or the whole free love movement portrayed here. I also was not crazy about the whole women’s lib story and felt like there was unnecessary nudity and graphic sex. However, for those who are interested in these topics, I would recommend this. It’s just not my cup of tea.


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2 Replies to “August 2020 Quickie Reviews”

  1. I like Endeavour, but like you don’t thing S7 is my favorite. Love all of Durbin’s movies just because they’re cute! “The Hustle” is fun, but to be honest, I feel like it’s the exact opposite of what the writers intended for it. I feel quite alone in my love for “The Lost Husband” but I will confess, I quite enjoyed it. 😉 Nothing revolutionary, but when I watched it I really knew nothing about it, and I like how respectful the romance is to both characters – they both find a better mental/emotional space before we feel like anything might happen between them. Maybe the book is better with the characters, but I thought the film did a nice job. 🙂

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