November 2019 Quickie Film Reviews

I had a very busy November, which means I didn’t have as much time as I usually do to sit in front of my TV. But what I did get to watch was an eclectic blend of mostly interesting movies and series.  And there was that weekend I binge-watched seven Hallmark Christmas movies with my family, which is not included in this month’s tally.

novemBER 2019 BREAKDOWN
  • 26 Films/Series Total
  • 8 New Classics
  • 5 Re-watches
  • 3 TV Series
  • 2 Foreign/International
  • 2 Documentaries
  • 2 Christmas movies
  • 3 Bette Davis and 2 John Gilbert films

Biggest DisappointmentJohn Ford: The Man Who Invented America – My expectations were high and it just wasn’t quite what I anticipated

The Big Parade with John Gilbert

Favorite Discovery Mum, The Big Parade & Instant Family. I couldn’t choose just one so I chose one classic, one contemporary and one series.

Admiral (2015) – Visually spectacular, this Dutch film tells the story of one of their most famous naval heroes, Michel de Ruyter.  The action scenes are incredible and if you’ve ever wondered what ship battles are like, this places you in the heart of it all. However, the story telling could be better. It did not give enough context for the people and events pictured, especially for someone who has no knowledge of Dutch history.

Cat People (1942) – Despite much praise for this thriller, I didn’t have high hopes.  I wasn’t impressed with Simone Simon in a previous film I’d seen her in. But she is perfectly cast here. Her innocent voice and appearance belie the evil she believes she carries within. The other performances are well- done and director Jacques Tourneur really did create a masterpiece with this.

The Madness of King George (1994) – Nigel Hawthorne gives a stunning performance as the English king who wrestles with insanity.  He made my heart bleed with compassion. This film is full of other famous British talents including Helen Mirren, Rupert Everett, Rupert Graves. The costuming and cinematography are gorgeous.

The King (2019) – Reviews for this Netflix film about King Henry V were very high, as were my expectations. It is very well made and blends Shakespeare’s take on this historical figure with the actual facts. Timothée Chalamet gives a good performance as the title character as does Joel Edgerton in a supporting role as military advisor and friend. However, it was pretty slow moving, didn’t have as much dialogue or context as I would have liked. A little trimming of the run time wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

No Tomorrow (2016) This short lived CW series is absolutely adorable and uniquely quirky. The premise of a woman falling for a man who believes the world is ending soon is one I’ve not seen before. In jointly completing their apocalists, they challenge each other to grow as individuals. The main and supporting characters are all interesting and have their own story lines.

Jackie and Ryan (2014) – This film stars Katherine Heigl & Ben Barnes as two musicians who are facing individual challenges when they first meet. It’s not a bad film overall. I just found it a bit of a downer, although it ends on an positive note. I did really enjoy the music in it though.

Mum (2016)– I’ve often seen Lesley Manville in period series, so it is so refreshing to see her as the star of this modern comedy series about a woman who’s life is in transition after her husband passes. I love how real this one feels, like you are stepping into the middle of everyday life with a regular family. I do feel sorry for the title character who is surrounded by self-absorbed people. But there is a very sweet relationship with an old friend which offsets that.

The Good Karma Hospital Season 3 – I’ve been eagerly waiting for the newest season of this personal favorite and it didn’t disappoint. This series continues to bring the drama and the character development. I enjoyed the introduction of new characters for the season, and the continuation of the story lines for the main characters. The only complaint I have is the inclusion of a love triangle. There is already enough drama between Dr. Varma and Dr. Walker without adding to it. Otherwise, I loved this season!

Front Page Woman (1935)  – I know I’ve seen this  quick paced Warner Brothers comedy before, but couldn’t remember a thing about it. It turns out it’s a lot of fun as George Brent and Bette Davis battle it out as rival reporters who also happen to love each other. Their chemistry sparkles. There are also some great little moments with lesser characters which have little to do with the plot, but add a lot to the humor of the movie.

Special Agent (1935) – It’s interesting to compare this with Front Page Woman. Both were made in 1935 and both star George Brent and Bette Davis. This one takes itself more seriously with Brent as an undercover agent trying to bring down Ricardo Cortez’ racketeer. Davis is the racketeer’s accountant and Brent’s love interest. Davis and Brent still sparkle onscreen and Cortez is good as the racketeer, although I really think Jack LaRue makes for the creepier villain. The direction on Special Agent isn’t as tight and concise as Front Page Woman unfortunately.

Christmas in the Smokies (2015) – Since I no longer have the Hallmark channel, I appreciate that I can find similar offerings on some of the streaming platforms. This was a slower moving story about a young woman on the verge of losing her family farm while also dealing with the return of her famous ex. It was sweet, but not extremely memorable.

John Ford: The Man Who Invented America (2019) – I have mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed learning about how Ford’s vision of America impacted his films. But I wish they would have left the politicizing out. I get really tired of that in entertainment. There’s a way to present a subject’s political views without adding the narrator’s or contributor’s personal interpretation of them. This documentary is also interesting as it presents a Frenchman’s view of an American icon.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – The best and liveliest scenes of this classic color film are those starring Edna Oliver. Every scene she is in crackles with energy. I’ve never been a huge fan of Henry Fonda or Claudette Colbert and it’s hard to buy Colbert as an early settler. Still, it’s a well made film that gives an interesting look at pre-Revolutionary America. But it really made me want to watch The Last of the Mohicans again.

Something of Value (1957) – This is one of those pictures that leaves you with all the thoughts. Based on the historical Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, it features two best friends who end up on opposite sides of the conflict. Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier star as the men who were raised like brothers but find themselves torn apart by inequality and the hatred of others. Despite neither giving their best performance, this is a tense film full of emotional drama and heartbreak. The arguments and conflicts the two encounter made me think of our own Civil War and how terrible it must be to find your friend or family member facing you as an enemy.

Image Makers: The Adventures of America’s Pioneer Cinematographers (2019) – I know very little about the work of cinematographers, so I found this documentary on the early experts very interesting. The best thing about it’s focus on the early cinematographers is that it also gives us a look at early Hollywood history through the partnerships they shared with directors/actors. I loved the emphasis on how the cinematographers preferred to mentor and share their techniques rather than compete against each other. I also really enjoyed examples of why their work was so groundbreaking. Finally, I have a better explanation of why Citizen Kane ( a movie I don’t care for) is considered one of the best films ever made. This is a very educational documentary, but also an entertaining one.

The Knight Before Christmas (2019) –  Netflix is currently serving as my substitute for Hallmark style Christmas movies. This one was a rather cute but silly story about a knight who travels through time to modern America to fulfill his quest. Honestly, it is fairly well done and not too painfully cheesy. I will never be a Vanessa Hudgins fan, but found her less irritating than usual as the woman who helps the knight acclimate to modern life only to find herself falling for him.

Little Miss Broadway (1938) – Another sweet Shirley Temple movie. Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about the story, which is just a re-hash of the orphan taken in by kindly show folk plot. But Temple remains adorable and has a strong supporting cast including my personal favorites Donald Meek and Edna Oliver as the film’s meanie which helps elevate the movie.

Redemption (1930) – I almost quit this one early on, it was so painful to watch. The acting was stilted and the editing was terrible. I’m also not a fan of stories featuring self-destructive characters. However, it did improve as time went on.  John Gilbert was charming with a beautiful smile and then pitiable as the man who marries his best friend’s wife and then leaves her to protect her from himself. I’ve been impressed with Eleanor Boardman in silent film roles, but she doesn’t have much to do here. There is a scene where she discovers him with his mistress and the two of them stare at each other in silence with their eyes saying everything. That hooked me. Watching Gilbert sink lower and lower was pretty powerful and I must say a bearded Gilbert is a sexy Gilbert.

The Big Parade (1925) – Despite high praise, I put off watching this revered silent WWI film because of the length. But boy was I wrong. This is an excellent film with wonderful cinematography, direction, acting and story development. The picture quality was sharp and clear. John Gilbert and Renée Adorée display the best chemistry of any of their pictures together. And I loved the camaraderie Gilbert has with his fellow soldiers. I will definitely be watching this one again.

Where Danger Lives (1950) – I’m still working my way through Robert Mitchum’s films. This film noir felt a bit formulaic, although the acting was good. Mitchum once again gets tangled up with a troubled woman and finds himself on the run. The great Claude Rains was severely underutilized but made the most of his one scene. I didn’t recognize Maureen O’Sullivan in her brief part, even after I knew it was her.

Le Silence de la Mer (1949) – I found this French film fascinating, not only for it’s background, but also for the stark visuals and story. During WWII a German officer lodges with a Frenchman and his niece. They register their resistance by ignoring his presence, but he holds one-sided conversations with them regarding his love of their country. This movie really made me think about the complexities and subtleties of the relational aspects of war. It’s hard to label someone an enemy once we get to know them even when they are part of a destructive system. Sometimes we label a person or a group as villains, when really its’ just a difference of belief or opinion which separates us.

Cass Timberlane (1947)– It’s been so long since I saw this drama, that I remembered very little about it. It’s really hard to buy Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner as husband and wife. He looks more like her father. But I do love Lana and she is fairly natural here at least in the first half of the movie. I’m also not a fan of Zachary Scott who plays the third wheel. His character arc makes little sense.

Curly Top (1935) -I’d forgotten I had already seen this Shirley Temple feature. But it was still cute. I really enjoyed the songs in this one, including When I Grow Up and Animal Crackers.

Instant Family (2018) – I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t see this on the big screen. I’m so glad the director cared enough to make this movie spotlighting the weaknesses of the foster system and the value of caring foster parents. It’s a film which doesn’t shy away from the horror and difficulties, but also celebrates the small victories and connections which can change the lives of all those involved. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired.

The Great Lie (1941) – Yet another film, I feel I’ve seen before, but couldn’t remember a thing about. I liked Bette Davis in this more vulnerable role of a woman who adopts the child of her presumed dead husband and her own personal nemesis. When her husband (George Brent) reappears, it becomes a battle of wills for his affection and the child between Davis and Mary Astor who certainly holds her own. The romance between Davis and Brent is sweet, but it’s the contentious relationship between the two women which really make this drama memorable.

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) – I remember really loving this drama about alcoholism and infidelity and its’ impact upon a career and marriage. Frederic March is a good actor, but not a personal favorite. But I thought he was great as the husband who finally gets his life on track only to derail it after returning to the bottle and his first love. Sylvia Sydney is very sympathetic as his wife in a role which allows her to once again utilize her sad eyes. As a bonus, we also get to see Cary Grant in a small early role as a stage actor…in tights!

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4 Replies to “November 2019 Quickie Film Reviews”

  1. I love both of the Netflix Vanessa Hudgen’s movies; silly, likely, but they’re too cute. 😉 Loved “Instant Family,” and I used to watch SO many Shirley Temple movies as a kid. 🙂

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