December 2020 Quickie Reviews

December 2020 BREAKDOWN
  • 45 films/series total
  • 20 new classic films
  • 16 re-watches
  • 4 TV series
  • 2 documentaries
  • 1 silent films

Biggest Disappointment: This is the Sea

We’re No Angels

Favorite Discovery: We’re No Angels

The Crown Season 4 – The casting and production of this series is still top notch. However, the more I watch it, the less I like it. The characters are all miserable, unhappy, self-absorbed people which makes them rather unlikable. I’ve also found myself wondering if this British institution called the monarchy is necessary or viable in this modern world. What value does it add?

The Trouble with Maggie Cole (2020) – The first episode of this series about the impact of gossip was cringe-worthy (because of the content) and I almost didn’t continue. However, I think this series tackles an important subject in tracing the aftermath of what an idle tongue can cause, even though I think it wasn’t hard hitting enough. The main character who spills the beans gets off relatively easy, and the people she gossiped about are the ones who feel the real (albeit unintentional) consequences of what she set in motion.

This is the Sea (1997) – I REALLY wanted to like this one. A young Protestant falls for a Catholic in 90’s Ireland, so it has a bit of a Romeo and Juliet vibe. Because it stars Samantha Morton, Richard Harris and Gabriel Byrne,  I expected great things. I have no complaints with their performances, but the quality of the picture felt like a made for tv movie.  There were way too many sequences with nothing but the score, which broke up the momentum of the story. Thank goodness I had subtitles on, or I wouldn’t have understood the majority of this Irish film.

Keeping Company (1940) – A cute little programmer about family and a new marriage, that I enjoyed better than I expected. Ann Rutherford gets a rare chance to shine in a starring role as a young wife. And for once Frank Morgan gets to play a non-bumbling role as a loving father to three daughters. Sweet, but not ultimately memorable.

I Want You (1951) – Many reviews name this as a sort of sequel to the popular  The Best Years of Our Lives which also stars Dana Andrews. I can see why as this one is set during the Korean War and there is a lot of discussion about the previous war, the draft and the fears of parents who remember the toll WWII took. It does seem at times like a propaganda film with a lot of talk, talk, talk to explain why sacrifices must be made and if they are worth it. The pace is a bit uneven, slow then interesting then back to dragging a bit.

By Love Possessed (1961) – I don’t care what anyone thinks…I am a Lana Turner fan. And as a completist, I had the chance to watch this later film of hers where she plays a socialite, stuck in a loveless marriage who has an affair with her husband’s business partner. I think she is the best part of this melodrama, which studies the dysfunction behind the seemingly perfect lives of the town’s leading families. However, it felt more like a bunch of spoiled people feeling sorry for themselves in their privilege than any deep exploration of the human heart.

Wallflower (1948) – I would never have given this one a chance if I hadn’t read a review from a trusted source. And boy, am I glad I did as it was cute and fun. It was refreshing to see the love and loyalty between the two stepsisters vying for the same man, instead of the story making them enemies.  Although Robert Hutton was a dud as the love interest, the rest of the cast, Janis Paige, Joyce Reynolds, Edward Arnold and Barbara Brown were great. I was disappointed to learn Reynolds didn’t make more films as an adult.

Mank (2020) – I really should know better by now. I always get excited by new films about classic Hollywood, and am inevitably disappointed. None of them capture the magic. It’s always interesting to see portrayals of the luminaries of the Golden era of Hollywood, however. Despite all the praise this one is getting, I think it’s overrated. This one was ostensibly about Herman Mankiewicz’ creation of the Citizen Kane script, but was really more about his political battles with his studio bosses. And honestly, after this last year, the last thing I’m interested in is more debates about politics. Aside from Amanda Seyfried as the underappreciated Marion Davies, none of the characters were all that likable. I’ve kind of lost interest in biopics about tortured artists at this point.

Lady Be Good (1941) – As someone who is picky about musicals, this was a pleasant surprise. I fell hard for Ann Southern as one half of a song writing duo who keep getting married and divorced. Although I’m not sure what she saw in her husband who lacked discipline and who seemed to prefer to flirt and play. The supporting characters were all great and I loved Eleanor Powell’s dance number, which may be the only one on screen with a dog. This is definitely one I will watch again.

The Sign of the Ram (1948) Susan Peters gives a wonderful performance as a secretly manipulative step-mother. It’s a shame she died so young. It’s rare to see a main character in a wheelchair and I love that she fought to have this movie made. The symbolic images of the crashing Cornish waves was a bit heavy handed. Several of the outdoor scenes reminded me of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The Wedding Night (1935) – I’m beginning to feel that Gary Cooper may be overrated. It seems to me his portrayals of various film characters all feel the same.  Anyway, here he is a married writer who falls for the Polish country girl played by Anna Sten. Sten looks a bit like a less sophisticated Marlene Dietrich. I just couldn’t get invested in their relationship. And her father and Polish relatives felt extremely clichéd. Honestly, I thought Helen Vinson as Cooper’s wife was the highlight of the whole movie.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – My mom prefers the 90’s remake of this classic, so I didn’t grow up watching this one. I do think this version is better made, particularly in the depiction of the antagonists, which in the newer film is absolutely silly. Edmund Gwenn is definitely the best Santa Claus, but as much as I love Natalie Wood, I do prefer Mara Wilson as the young girl  who doesn’t believe in Santa. The romance between her mother and the neighboring attorney is less pronounced in this one though, which gives more time to the main story about Santa.

Bachelor Mother (1939) – I love David Niven in this holiday classic. In fact it may be my favorite of his movies, despite it being considered Ginger Rogers’ picture. The scene with the two of them at the New Year’s Eve party with Rogers pretending to be Swedish is great. And Charles Coburn gives me the giggles as Niven’s father who is convinced he is a grandfather.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) – Although James Stewart and Kim Novak are the stars of this film about a mortal who falls for a witch, I had seen two other movies with Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacks together and wanted to watch this third one. Honestly, I think the subject matter interfered with my ability to enjoy this one. I didn’t find any of the characters all that appealing, although I did think Stewart’s winter coat was absolutely gorgeous.

In Name Only (1939) – Every time I watch this movie I’m surprised by how good it is. Somehow, I forget how tender and sweet Carole Lombard is and how charming and delightful Cary Grant is in this movie about a couple who are kept apart by his scheming wife. They really are both delightful together in this unusual film that celebrates love outside of marriage.

The Great Mr. Nobody (1941) – A rare chance for Eddie Albert in a lead role and it’s a flop. His character is meant to be a  generous, self-sacrificing guy who instead comes across as a moronic doormat. It’s hard to believe anyone could be that dense. He’s uninspiring as a character when it appears he just can’t say no, rather than acting from good intention. Joan Leslie is the best part about this silly film.

Mr. Soft Touch (1949) – I’m glad TCM is widening their definition of holiday films this year, or I may never have seen this Glenn Ford picture.  Ford steals from the gangster who took over his club and then ends up hiding out at at a settlement home. Though not necessarily feel-good fare, the film is set during the holiday and features a plot where a cynical character has his heart softened by the goodness of others. It’s kind of a mash up of genres, but he and the other actors make it work.

Brother Orchid (1940) – It’s taken me years, decades, to appreciate Edward G Robinson, but it’s finally starting to happen. Though this one co-stars Humphrey Bogart, this is definitely Robinson’s film as a retired gangster who gets in wrong with his replacement and hides out at a monastery.  He gets a chance to play a bit against type while still playing the gangster role he is associated with. I really loved Ann Southern as his faithful, but flighty girlfriend.

Wings (1927) – This epic silent has been sitting on my DVR for a while until I finally worked up the nerve to tackle it. I don’t know why I always worry that these silent films with longer running times won’t be able to hold my attention. I can see why this one is so well-regarded. It was certainly compelling and still relevant even today with it’s portrayal about the cost of war. Buddy Rogers was a nice surprise as one of the leads, but I found Richard Arlen a bit wooden.

Holiday Affair (1949) – In the past several years, this has quickly moved up my list of favorite Christmas movies. I grow to love it more with every viewing. It portrays adult issues in an adult manner without resorting to clichés, but still incorporating the wonder of a child through young Timmy.

Laurel and Hardy Shorts (Putting Pants on Philip, Berth Marks, Perfect Day, The Hoose-Gow, They Go Boom, Two Tars)- These are nice quick little pick me up comedy shorts. I do find the silent ones funnier.

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) – This is another newly minted holiday favorite for me. it’s funny, sweet and the casting is spot on. While it does get a little bogged down in some areas, it’s impossible not to be charmed by this story about a hobo who subtly teaches others the meaning of real wealth.

The Hour of 13 (1952) – This plot felt familiar and then I learned it is a remake of a Robert Montgomery film, The Mystery of Mr. X. This one however has a British cast and stars Peter Lawford in one of his best roles. He is a jewel thief who ends up helping Scotland Yard track down a serial killer who is murdering police.  It’s a bit hard to believe that his thief is smarter than men who spend their lives solving mysteries, but hey, Lawford is so suave and likable I’m willing to suspend disbelief. This was entertaining and I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

They Drive By Night (1940) – It’s hard to believe there was a time that Humphrey Bogart would take a back seat to George Raft on screen. But he does here in a picture that has them playing brothers and partners and long-haul truck drivers in a dangerous profession. While they both give good performances, it’s  Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino who really light up the screen and make this film worth watching.

Dawn Patrol (1938) – This is a remake of an earlier film with the same name, but I can’t imagine I would like that one better than this.  David Niven and Errol Flynn’s bromance is the highlight of what is yet another film about the responsibilities and tragedies of war. However, they manage to infuse it with lighter moments as well which keep it from becoming too dreary. I wish they had made a lot more movies together.

The Great Garrick (1937) – This is a fun showpiece for Brian Aherne, who plays the famous English actor David Garrick. I love the plot about the cast of the  Comédie-Française setting up an elaborate hoax to teach the pompous Brit how to REALLY act. And all the while, he’s in on it. A young Olivia de Havilland is beautiful, but doesn’t have much to do, or any character development. The great Edward Everett Horton almost steals the show as Garrick’s right hand man.

In the Good Old Summertime (1949) – After putting this musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner off for many years, I finally gave it a chance. And it was cute. I didn’t find any of the songs that memorable, although the routine Judy Garland does to I Don’t Care was fun. I liked Van Johnson’s performance better as the film went on and loved Spring Byington and S.Z Zakall all the way through. I definitely enjoyed this more than the original, but You’ve Got Mail will always be my favorite itineration of this one.

Passion Flower (1930) – Considering the year this was released, it’s no surprise this is a stagey production. It’s presentation of a love triangle is slightly different than most. Although I do get tired of classic film’s habit of portraying breakups as amicable, easy and emotionless. That is so far from reality. Once again, Kay Francis makes this early pre-Code watchable as the seductress who steals her cousin/close friend’s husband.

Going My Way (1944) Though Bing Crosby has a singing voice that melts me like butter, his films generally leave me cold. I liked this story about a young priest who is sent to (secretly) take over from an old priest in his parish. Barry Fitzgerald is a real treat as the old priest who is unaware that his new help is actually in charge. It’s a sweet film, but I don’t think I will want to watch it again for a while.

Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace (2019) – I had never thought much about the history of WHERE we watch movies. But it was very interesting. I liked learning about how the early movie palaces were part of the whole experience and how it differs from today, but also liked knowing more about the change in trends in how and where we watch films.

Deep Valley (1947) – I haven’t seen a lot of Ida Lupino films, but this certainly has to be one of her best performances. The story is sweet but sad.

Desk Set (1957) – Although I’m a huge Katharine Hepburn fan, I may be one of the few who don’t love her films with Spencer Tracy. But why I waited so long to watch this again is a mystery, because I found it to be so much fun! It’s nice to see Joan Blondell again and no one can play a middle aged spinster who is strong but vulnerable like the Great Kate.

We’re No Angels (1955) – Why I’ve never been interested in watching this one before now, I’ll never know. It’s absolutely delightful. Many of you know I enjoy dark comedies like this one about three escaped convicts who decide to help the family they initially thought to rob.  Though Humphrey Bogart is clearly the star, Peter Ustinov absolutely captivated me. This is definitely a new favorite.

White Christmas (1954) – As a fan of Christmas films, this has never been at the top of my list. I think I’ve only seen it once before and didn’t remember liking it much. However, I had a much better experience this time around. Danny Kaye sparkles in his role as comic sidekick and man, can that Vera-Ellen dance! I didn’t find any of the songs memorable, other than the famous Sisters routine. I may go ahead and add this one to my annual holiday film rotation now.

Never Say Goodbye (1946) – This is a more recent Christmas favorite for me which I’ve written about before. Errol Flynn is great in this comedic role as a charmer trying to win back his ex-wife with the help of their daughter. And Eleanor Parker is stunning, elegant and down to earth as the ex. This comedy is a real winner.

Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity (2015) – Often when I watch biographical documentaries, I learn new things about people who have interested me, sometimes I even admire them more. But it’s rare that I come away with total respect for that person as I have done after seeing this doc about actress Marsha Hunt. Not only was she a good actress, but she was a person of integrity, moral conviction, kindness and utterly lacking in self-pity despite having reason to be. It was a nice bonus that much of this documentary was in her own words as she is still alive to give her perspective about her own life.

All I Want for Christmas (1991) – This is one of my mom’s holiday favorites and it is pretty cute. Two children work to re-unite their parents for Christmas. The two child actors are adorable. Lauren Bacall plays their grandmother but doesn’t get as much screen time as she deserves. But she makes the best of it.

Virgin River Season 2 – I really liked the first season and had high hopes for the second, but I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t nearly as good. There’s just too much going on with the various characters, and most of them are too much of a stereotype. The story lines are way too soap opera – y.

A Christmas Story (1983) – How is it that I always forget how well done and entertaining this modern classic is?!  It just captures the nostalgia and simplicity of a child’s view of Christmas perfectly.

Enola Holmes (2020) – Watched this one again with my mom and sister and it’s just as good the second time around. I really hope they make a sequel.

Harvey (1950) – A childhood favorite, I re-watched this with my mom and sisters and we all loved it. I’ve actually written about this one a couple of times (and also here) .I just love everything about it.

Heaven Sent (2016) – Though made by Lifetime and not Hallmark, this is one of the best made for television holiday movies out there. The production is well done, the cast and setting spot on. And I really, really  love the plot. For a full review click here. For those interested, it is available for streaming purchase for less than a dollar.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) – This is only my second viewing of this Christmas comedy and I appreciated it more this time. Monty Wooley really sinks his teeth into his role as the worst houseguest ever. It’s also interesting seeing a softer side of Bette Davis. I don’t think this will ever be a favorite, but it will be a picture I re-visit from time to time.

Little Women (1994) –  As much as I liked last year’s adaptation of this famous lit classic, this one still remains my personal favorite. Despite a few weaknesses, for me it presents the stories and characters in such a loving, beautiful way. The actresses inhabit their characters so well. Not to mention, the cinematography is simply gorgeous.

Bridgerton (2020) – I binge-watched this series and found it absolutely delicious. Although I know it was adapted from a romance novel I did find the bedroom scenes a bit too numerous and graphic. Other than that however, I had no complaints with this beautiful production.

 

 

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