August 2021 Quickie Reviews

august 2021 BREAKDOWN
  • 44 films/series total
  • 20 new classic films
  • 12 re-watches
  • 5 new TV series
  • 2 documentaries
  • 2 silent films
  • 1 foreign film/series

Biggest Disappointment: Kiss Me, Stupid

Michael Fassbender in A Bear Called Winnie

Favorite Discovery: A Bear Called Winnie, Western Union

Most Watched Actor/Actress: Kay Francis – 3 films

King of the Skies (2021) – This Dutch series covers the rivalry and occasional partnership between Holland’s aviation pioneers Anthony Fokker and Albert Plesman. The first made his name as an early pilot and plane builder and the second became head of KLM, the country’s airline. It’s intense, compelling and an interesting character study as well as portraying how business and government interests compete and intertwine. I was particularly fascinated by the relationship between the two men and how their shared passion for civil aviation affected their families.

You Me & Them (2013-) – I found myself alternately cringing and then laughing out loud often during this comedy about a young woman dating an older man. They are very sweet together, but their alternate family members are quirky,  terrible and endearing. This is cheesy and annoying at times but also lots of fun. I will say I think season one is slightly better than season two thanks to the outrageous performance of Leslie Duncan as the ex-wife.

Marked Woman (1937) – An interesting film based on the true story of a group of prostitutes who testified against convicted gangster Lucky Luciano. Of course names and the occupation of the women were changed. Bette Davis shows her drama skills playing the leader of the women who is willing to do anything to take the gangster down. It’s interesting to see Humphrey Bogart in a less sinister role as the DA who prosecutes the gangster.

Wish You Well (2013) – An absolutely visually gorgeous film made on location in Virginia. Ellyn Burstyn is the emotionally strong family matriarch who takes in her mentally injured granddaughter-in-law and great grand children while also fighting of the encroachment of big business interests who want to force her off her land.  Child actress Mackenzie Foy gives a great performance and the action of the movie is seen through her eyes. It’s a slower paced family drama, but one worth watching.

Return to Me (2000) – They don’t make rom-coms like this anymore sadly. This one has notes of bitter among the sweet. Minnie Driver plays a woman who falls in love with the widower of the woman whose heart she receives through a transplant. My favorite parts of this movie though are her grandpa and his old man friends who like to bicker and play old music and her best friend Bonnie Hunt and husband who bicker as well as they love. Just a great film all around and one that makes you believe in the goodness of humanity.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) – I love a good redemption story and this is one of my favorites. Even though the ending varies from the source novel, I like it better. Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce are great as the two childhood friends who find themselves as enemies when one betrays the other.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) – I’ve been wanting to watch this well-regarded film about Anne Boleyn for a long time. I’m afraid I’ll never be a Richard Burton fan despite his talent. Genevieve Bujold gives a strong performance opposite him as his doomed second wife. For me, the best parts of this film are the costumes and settings which make it feel very authentic.

English Without Tears (1944) – This British comedy had some funny moments, but it took a while to really get going and many times I had a hard time understanding what was going on. Margaret Rutherford is wasted as an elderly aristocrat who is passionate about protecting birds. I never could figure out what her interest had to do with the plot. Michael Wilding is likable as her butler who becomes the unwilling love interest of her niece. It was rather odd how an international community seemed to gather at her estate like it was all fun and games despite a war being on.

Sophie and the Rising Sun (2016) A slow, quiet film which takes a look at racism in a small South Carolina town during WWII. The cast is good and I liked the story about a single woman who falls for a Japanese man passing through town, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to really connect with it all.

Chef (2014) – The first time I watched this I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected depth of its’ story. At times it feels like two movies, the first portraying the intense, cut-throat world of the restaurant business as a popular chef starts to self-destruct. The second half focuses more on his reconnection with his son which is my favorite part of the film. It’s nice to see Jon Favreau in front of the camera again for a change

The Scarlet Letter (1926) – I hated Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous story when I read it in my English class. However, this silent film adaptation starring Lillian Gish as the maligned Hester Prynne gave me more of an appreciation for the characters because it humanized them by showing more of their romance and the justification behind their sacrifices. Despite the character she plays, Gish still comes across a little too good to be true. I’ll be writing about this in greater depth, so stay tuned for a full review.

Fast Workers (1933) – This pre-code is proof that John Gilbert could make any film better for his presence. Without him, this tale of fast living, hard working riveters would not be worth watching. Gilbert’s turn as a lower class working man who saves his closest friend by tempting women away from marrying him is almost a sympathetic character. He’s certainly a charming one.

Midnight (1939) – I’ve written about this film before but, every now and then I like to drag this great little underrated comedy out for a viewing. It’s take on the Cinderella tale is almost perfection. John Barrymore is great fun as the “fairy godmother” character who helps Claudette Colbert’s honest and likeable gold digger. But it’s Don Ameche who really steals the show for me as the poor taxi driver who falls in love with her. Plus, her costumes are fabulous!

Satan Made a Lady (1936) – This earlier version of The Maltese Falcon has an entirely different tone. Warren William plays the detective with much less intensity and much more humor and a devil may care attitude. It’s not as good of a film as its’ famous remake, but it is still very entertaining in its’ own way. Bette Davis is fun as the femme fatale, but does play it too shrill at times.

The Accidental Husband (2008) – I’m not sure why this rom-com has such low reviews on IMDb as it is rather charming even if it is a piece of fluff.  Uma Thurman is believable as a sincere self-help guru who is engaged to her publisher played by Colin Firth. The story about a man who lost his fiancee after taking Uma’s expert advice and then faking a marriage to her as a means of revenge is rather cute, especially as played by the scruffy Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Val (2021) – I’ve long been intrigued by Val Kilmer and his work so I was super excited to learn he had made a documentary about his life. This has received many accolades, but I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.  It’s interesting to get a behind the scenes look at his personal life and artistic process and it is very creatively presented. But art is subjective and this is something that my mind had a difficult time assimilating. It does make me want to watch some of his films again though.

Give Me Your Heart (1936) – This is one of several films which co-starred Kay Francis and George Brent together. Francis has a juicy role as a woman who gives her child up after an affair but later has trouble in her marriage due to the emotional fall-out of that decision. Brent doesn’t have much to do, but Francis is fantastic. The film is bettered by Roland Young as her sympathetic friend who acts as a catalyst for all the action.

The Vanishing Virginian (1942) –  A family drama but also a bio pic about a popular state politician. It’s hard to go wrong with a Frank Borzage picture, especially one boast a great cast including Frank Morgan, Spring Byington, Kathryn Grayson and Elizabeth Patterson.  I found it very entertaining, but not extremely memorable.

Dangerous When Wet (1953) –  This is one of Esther Williams more famous films and it’s easy to see why. It allows her to show her swimming skills in a more realistic way, not to mention it pairs her with Fernando Lamas who not only matched her as a swimmer, but with whom she had great chemistry. Williams is charming and gets a chance to show her comedic skills in a scene where she gets accidentally drunk.

Love’s Kitchen (2011)  – Real life couple Dougray Scott & Claire Forlani star in this picture about a widowed chef starting over who is unknowingly befriended by the food critic who gave him a terrible review. There’s a bit of comedy, but mostly this takes a serious note exploring themes of grief and even family dysfunction. I liked it but didn’t love it.

The Healer (2017) – This was an unusual film about a young man who learns he inherited healing powers from his family. It was quirky and unpredictable, but also had some depth, especially in the way it explored how grief and illness impact our lives.

I Found Stella Parish (1935) – Kay Francis excels in dramatic roles like this, playing an actress who disappears from the stage to protect her young daughter from her shady past. The child actress playing her daughter was adorable but a bit too precocious at times. And the story is a bit over-dramatic, but Francis makes it all work.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) – Sadly, I’m learning I don’t really enjoy these types of musicals. The acting and musical numbers are a bit over-the-top  for me. Plus, I don’t enjoy this time setting in films either because of the styles. I was hoping the talented cast including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams, Betty Garrett and Edward Arnold would help. But Williams and Arnold are wasted and honestly I found Kelly’s character annoying.

A Bear Named Winnie (2004) – A heartwarming film based on the real life story behind the bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh. Michael Fassbender is wonderful as the Canadian soldier who adopts him as a cub and creates a mascot of him for his regiment. The camera work and pacing is not great at times, but that is all overridden by the portrayal of the touching bond between man and animal.

Paradise for Three (1938) – This is one of Robert Young’s earlier starring roles and he’s rather charming as a unemployed young man mistaken for a millionaire while on a trip. The film also stars Frank Morgan as the actual millionaire who wants to remain incognito, Mary Astor as a gold digger, Edna Oliver and Reginald Owen. Oliver, as usual, pretty much steals ever scene.

Ghost Town ( 2008) – This is one of my mom’s favorite comedies which has grown on me over the years. Ricky Gervais is hilarious as a misanthropic dentist who can see dead people who want him to settle things with the living for them. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear also star and are charming. But this is Gervais’ film and he always makes me laugh out loud.

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) – I won’t go so far as to say I hated this supposed comedy, but I didn’t enjoy it. I was excited to see Dean Martin starring, but he actually had more of a supporting role. Ray Walston has the most onscreen time, which is a shame, because he does not really fit the part of the jealous husband who hires a prostitute to pretend to be his wife in order to help him sell a song to “Dino”. Kim Novak looks blowsy as the hooker. The attitude of the men in this film is repulsive and I really wish I hadn’t wasted two hours of my time on this.

My Bill (1938) – Another Kay Francis film, featuring her as a self-sacrificing mother, but this one is played for comedy. Francis three older children are total brats and it was hard to watch her continually absorb their verbal lashings. Dickie Moore is the title character and youngest child and is really the main character. He’s sweet, snappy and quite the little personality,

The Magic of Ordinary Days (2005) – This Hallmark Hall of Fame film is a personal favorite starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich in a marriage of convenience. It moves at a slower pace, but that suits the story and characters. It’s sweet without being sappy.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) – I had forgotten how truly funny this is and I found myself laughing once again at the embarrassing antics of Tula’s very proud Greek family.

Modern Love Season 2 – The quality of the episodes vary for me and I skipped over one or two of them. I still like the concept of exploring all the various meanings of love based on essays written by real people. And I really liked seeing some new settings outside of New York. The most memorable episode for me was the first one starring Minnie Driver as a widow still coming to terms with her grief.

Virgin River Season 3 – I’m happy to say I enjoyed this season better than last, thanks to the absence of Hope and a lot less of the Charmaine drama. I actually liked the addition of Jack’s sister although I wish it had provided a bit more development of their relationship and history of their family dynamics. The lovey-dovey scenes between Jack and Mel got to be a little excessive and I am really wish they would wrap up the Preacher/Paige kid storyline.

Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong (1989) – I knew NOTHING about Louis Armstrong before watching this documentary, other than a few of his songs and film appearances. So, this was a good introduction for me to this famous artist. It gives an overview of his life and also includes clips of his performances as well as interviews with other musicians, including Tony Bennett explaining Armstrong’s impact on American music. I had no idea he was so influential. It was sad to hear about the emotional trauma he experienced from racism, but he not only challenged it but rose above it.

The Pursuit of Love (2021) – I’ve never really liked this story and I can’t say  my opinion has improved with a new adaptation. The characters are hard to love as they are self-centered and indulgent. Andrew Scott is the saving grace as the fabulous Lord Merlin. I did like how historical black and white photography was interspersed with the rest of the film, but the camera work felt abrupt and choppy making it hard for me to focus.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) – I’m sorry to say, I found this classic not only slow, but dull. I’ve never been a fan of Jennifer Jones and found her alternately annoying and then histrionic. Gregory Peck plays it way too understated and I really couldn’t make myself care what happened to either of them in this much too long movie.

A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) – There are so many moments in this picture where Tyrone Power reminded me of Clark Gable. The role of a cocky, womanizing pilot would have been right up his alley. I enjoyed seeing Betty Grable in a slightly more serious film, although she still got a chance to sing and dance and be utterly charming.

Western Union (1941) – I was utterly surprised by this Western in many ways. For one, it doesn’t feel much like a Fritz Lang picture. For another, it was a shock to see a young Dean Jagger as I’m accustomed to him in his later years. Randolph Scott was fabulous as the outlaw trying to go straight when Jagger gives him a chance. And this may be one of the earliest instances of Robert Young proving he could really act. The outdoor setting is stunning and well photographed. And the end had a couple of twists I did not predict. I would have liked to see the final credits roll after the shot of the grave stones sitting in front of the Western Union line, as it would have had greater impact. But other than that, this was a wonderful experience.

Meet Joe Black (1998) – I’ve always liked this story about a man who teaches the personification of Death in human form, the meaning of a life well lived. Anthony Hopkins of course, makes this work, as the man at the end of his life. I love his interactions with his two grown daughters, as it’s rare to see such a beautiful depiction of a father/daughter relationship on screen. And no matter how many times I see this, I always cry at the end.

Laws of Attraction (2004) – My mom and I like to re-visit this fun little rom-com about two divorce attorneys who are rivals in court but secretly attracted to each other. It helps that part of the movie is filmed in Ireland as I’m always partial to that country as a setting. But the real standouts are Parker Posey and Michael Sheen as a rock star and his wife battling it out in divorce court.

The Red Lily (1924) – I’m really starting to think the silent film era was the golden age for melodramas. This one certainly has it all, two young lovers cruelly separated who fall into vice and crime, rediscover each other but the course of true love does not run smooth. It’s hard to believe pretty boy Ramon Navarro as a criminal but Edna Bennett really sells it for both of them as the young innocent who refuses to give up on him, even when he rejects her after they are reunited. The ending is completely unrealistic, but I did like the bit of humor at the end with Wallace Beery becoming part of their new life.

Stormy Weather (1943) – What a delight this all black musical is. Lena Horne is not only physically gorgeous, but has a gorgeous voice as well. I’m so glad a film like this was made to preserve some of the best of the musicians who were featured here. It’s hard to believe that Bill Robinson was almost forty years older than Horne. He certainly didn’t look like it. Although there wasn’t much plot, the quality of this film is top notch.

The Black Swan (1942) – Such a great swashbuckler! Tyrone Power is almost too handsome to be a reformed pirate, while George Sanders is almost unrecognizable as another pirate who refuses to go straight.  Sadly, Maureen O’Hara doesn’t have much to do other than to be a coat hanger for stunning gowns, but it’s all just so much fun.

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – In my opinion. this is the best of the three films Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra made together. The musical numbers are better and Kelly’s character isn’t as obnoxious. I know everyone talks about his dancing duet with the cartoon Jerry, but I really liked the number with the little Spanish girl. Personally, I would have cut back on the number of solos sung by Kathryn Grayson, but then I’m not a fan of her singing style.

Confidentially Connie (1953) – This is an adorable if somewhat average comedy starring Janet Leigh and Van Johnson as an expectant couple who receive and unexpected visit from his wealthy cattle ranching father.  The chemistry between Leigh and Van is sweet and believable and Leigh’s scenes with father-in-law, Louis Calhern spark with life and fun. There are some really funny moments and also some that drag a little. But I liked it enough to watch it again.

All photos sourced from IMDb. Feature photo is of Western Union.

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