Favorite Discovery:A Stranger in Town and Small Island
Sweet Magnolias (2020) – Everyone, but I mean everyone, has been talking about this Netflix family and girl power drama. And with good reason. While it is a clean show, it also doesn’t shy away from real life situations like adultery, divorce and broken relationships, even it if does cast them in a slightly rosier light. I love the core of this series that is the strong friendship between the three main female leads. My only complaints are that some of the supporting actors are a bit wooden in their delivery and that cliff-hanger of an ending!
Bless This Mess Season 2 – I fell hard for this fish out of water sitcom last year. I love the twist of portraying a NYC couple adjusting to living on a farm in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. And though it does poke fun at the country folks it is an equal opportunity offender in making fun of the city couple as well. Lake Bell and Dax Shepherd are hilarious and I’ve found myself laughing out loud often while watching this show. I’m very glad this season expanded the amount of episodes from last year.
The Train (1964) – Burt Lancaster stars in this WWII flick as an agent of the French Underground working to save a train load of art that has been stolen by a Nazi officer. Though I’m not a fan of Lancaster who always comes across self-righteous (in my opinion), the story and the action kept me intrigued. I was disappointed by the anti-climatic ending.
A Stranger in Town (1943) – Character actor Frank Morgan takes a starring role as a Supreme Court judge who encounters institutional corruption in a small town while on vacation. Not only was this brief film humorous and fun, but it also addressed the serious issue of privilege and entrenched government manipulation. Morgan has a stirring speech at the end about the responsibility of American citizens that made me want to stand up and cheer. Definitely worth a watch!
Niagara (1953)– This is my first experience with Marilyn Monroe playing a conniving femme fatale. This color film noir depicted her toxic marriage with Joe Cotton in a believable way. But it was Jean Peter’s performance as a newlywed who gets caught up in their twisted game who stole the show for me. The scenes all around Niagara Falls were so interesting and made me wish I had explored it more when I was there.
Too Young to Kiss (1951) – I liked this much better than I anticipated, considering I’ve never been a fan of June Allyson. She didn’t annoy me as much as usual. Perhaps that is due to her character trying to pass as a child in order to catch the attention of Van Johnson’s music promoter. Overall, I thought this comedy was rather cute and am willing to watch it again.
Hamlet (1996) – In my goal to become more familiar with Shakespeare’s work, I finally tackled this four hour drama. Um wow! Boasting an excellent cast, intricate set and wonderful performances, it kept me intrigued. Although I will confess, I still struggled with the language of the Bard and had to Google a synopsis of the story to keep up.
Just Mercy (2020) – I wanted to see this one in the theater in January, but missed it. So, I was thrilled Amazon offered it for free this month. It’s a compelling and inspiring look not only at injustice, but also the way we stereotype those in the prison system.
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)– For a WWII film, this one had quite a bit of humor sprinkled in among the serious and tense moments. I appreciated how much of the film took place on a train. And it doesn’t hurt that it was filmed in color, so I could stare at the endless blue of Frank Sinatra’s eyes.
My Darling Clementine (1946) – Considering I’m ambivalent about Henry Fonda and Westerns, no fan of Victor Mature and absolutely adore the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday portrayals in the more recent Tombstone, I liked this John Ford version better than I expected to. Mature’s performance in the first half of the film really grabbed my attention. And for once I appreciated Fonda underplaying his role. But I felt the ladies playing the love interests were a distraction from an otherwise really good Western.
Bringing Up Baby (1938) – My all time favorite film still delights me after all these years. So many great lines and performances, not to mention the silliness of it all.
Call My Agent(2015)– I like this French series about talent agents, but I don’t love it. What I do really appreciate is a behind the scenes view of the world of French cinema and the fact that the guest stars are real French film stars. I have yet to get emotionally involved with the characters and wish there was a bit more warmth displayed, both in the cinematography and in the performances.
36 Hours (1964) – This WWII drama was a re-watch for me and didn’t have the same impact the second time around. I still felt Eva Marie Saint and James Garner were great in their roles and I’m never going to be unhappy to see Rod Taylor on the screen. I loved the ending a bit more this time around, even though the humor of it, didn’t quite jive with the overall serious tone of the movie.
As You Like It(2006) – My second foray into Shakespeare for the month. I definitely prefer his comedies. The premise is far-fetched, but who cares when it’s this much fun. I loved how the re-imagined setting of the play in Japan. But mostly I enjoyed watching my personal fave Romola Garai. And then there is Alfred Molina who kills it as the court fool.
Castle on the Hudson (1940) – It took me a while to develop an appreciation for John Garfield, but now that I have I’m seeking out all his films. Including this one about a cocky small time gangster who lands in prison. Garfield is great at pathos as he displays here. His journey from an arrogant, selfish man to one who develops character and integrity at great personal cost is a beautiful one.
Hot Sweet Sour (2017) – It’s been a while since I watched a Turkish film. This one about a couple who split but agree to marry in five years if they are both still single caught my attention. The first half plays like a romantic comedy until it finally segues into a melodrama. I think I would have preferred it stay in the rom-com zone. I found myself frustrated with the female lead, but there was a reason for some of her selfish, immature behavior which I learned later. I was very impressed with the male lead however.
Henry V (1989) – Ya’ll, the third time is NOT the charm. I’m trying hard to appreciate Shakespeare and if anyone can help in that endeavor, it is Kenneth Brannagh. However, the language still trips me up. It’s like watching a foreign movie without the subtitles and with extra pontificating. I know this one has very good reviews, but I finally quit half way through.
Lady J (2018) – This French Netflix film is little like eating macarons – full of gorgeous pastel colors and delicacy. But it has an underlying darkness as it is in essence, a tale of revenge. As much as I love dialogue, there was too much of it for me here. It’s a visually pleasing film, but failed to engage me emotionally.
Mae West: Dirty Blonde (2020)– I went in blind to this PBS documentary about this groundbreaking blonde bombshell. While I wish it had featured more information on West’s personal life, it certainly did a good job explaining her career success placed within the context of the time she lived in. What she achieved as woman in the film industry is extraordinary. Not only did she push social and moral boundaries, but those that inhibited the female sex as well. However, I didn’t feel like I got to know her personally. The presentation left me feeling a bit detached from the subject.
Girls from Ipanama (Coisa Mais Linda) Season 2 (2020) – I still love these characters as much as I did before, although I wasn’t thrilled with some of their choices this season. There were quite a few things introduced then left unexplored and several story lines felt like they moved too quickly. I do love that Adelia’s sister and Malu’s business partner received more screen time as I really like their characters. I did feel like there was a bit too much gratuitous nudity and sex. However, this Brazilian Netflix series remains one of my guilty pleasures.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)– After a couple of very serious, heavy feeling films, I needed something light and funny, so decided on a re-watch of my favorite comedy in recent years. As expected it did the trick, and lightened my spirits. I think the casting and plot for this re-make is just genius. And I appreciate how the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all.
Barakah Meets Barakah (2016) – I’m always trying to branch out in exploring foreign films. So this Saudi made Netflix picture caught my attention. It’s the story of a middle class man who meets and falls for a wealthy girl. Sadly, I didn’t find this one all that interesting, other than the exposure to Middle Eastern culture it afforded me.
The Soloist (2009)– I love Robert Downey Jr. and was curious to see him in a more dramatic film with Jamie Foxx. Of course, with these two talents, great performances were a given. The story wasn’t quite what I was expecting with its’ focus on mental illness and homelessness. Though I do appreciate that it presents these topics with compassion, it was a bit too much sadness and darkness for me at this time of my life.
When a Man Loves (1927)– How could I pass up the chance to see Drew Barrymore’s grandparents, John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, act together in the same film? This is the first of Barrymore’s silent movies that I have seen and I must say, I think I prefer him in “talkies”. It was heavy on the melodrama both in the story line and the acting and the plot was all over the place. Plus, it’s hard to take the very masculine Barrymore seriously when he’s wearing a full face of makeup.
Small Island (2009) – Populated with now familiar faces like Naomie Harris, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ruth Wilson & David Oyelowo, this mini-series provides a thoughtful look at the experiences of Jamaican immigrants in London after WWII. I don’t know much about Britain’s history with racism, but this gave me a better idea. I really connected with the characters and their experiences. It is beautifully shot and emotionally compelling. Plus, it made me want to visit the island of Jamaica.
By Your Leave (1934)– A forgettable little programmer about a husband and wife who decide to take a week’s vacation from each other. I expected a bit more from a film starring Frank Morgan and Genevieve Tobin. The best parts of the film were those with their bossy maid played by a pre-wicked witch Margaret Hamilton.
In light of recent events, both personal and national, my entertainment choices have been guided by a sense of comfort and escapism. Which is why, I have been re-watching so many of my favorite films and trying to choose new films which offer a high entertainment value instead of a lot of drama and intensity.