November 2020 Quickie Reviews

novemBER 2020 BREAKDOWN
  • 36 films/series total
  • 11 new classic films
  • 7 TV series
  • 2 re-watches
  • 4 Gene Tierney films
  • 3 foreign films
The Sapphires
The Sapphires

Biggest Disappointment: The Circle

Favorite Discovery: Cyrano, My Love

Favorite Re-Visit: Under the Greenwood Tree

Julie & Julia (2009) – I never get tired of this fun little movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child. It makes me wish I loved cooking as much as she and Amy Adam’s Julie do. Also, this is the movie that made me a fan of Chris Messina.

The Brokenwood Mysteries Season 4 – I still really like this trio of police investigators and the New Zealand setting. I’m planning on finishing out the remaining two seasons of this series.

On the Riviera (1951) – I try to avoid Danny Kaye, but he surprised me here. This is the third cinematic telling of this story, the prior ones being That Night in Rio with Don Ameche and Folies Bergere with Maurice Chevalier. The doppelganger of a wealthy businessman fills in for him in a business deal and with his wife. And I have to say, I liked Kaye’s performance best of the three. One of my personal favorites, Gene Tierney also stars and is gorgeous as is the gorgeously colorful Riviera setting.

Mystery Road (2018) – I can’t say I loved this Western Australian mystery series, but it certainly was compelling.  The characters are all reticent in revealing themselves and the mystery took several turns which kept me guessing. The tension of the story is maintained throughout.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – This is one of my comfort films which I’ve written about before. It feels like an old friend, and I was missing it, so decided it was time for another visit. I love the dichotomy of Gene Tierney’s title character; so gracefully feminine and yet so strong and independent. And as much as I love My Fair Lady, this is my favorite of Rex Harrison’s performances. The two of them together in this story are magic!

The Chosen (2017) – After hearing great buzz revolving around this series about Jesus, I binge watched it with a friend. Although it stays true to Biblical canon, I appreciate how it creates back stories for the characters who interact with Jesus; Peter, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene and others. I have no complaints about the quality or narrative. Although one of the actors portraying Capernaum’s Roman ruler plays it too cliche. I loved the characterizations and really look forward to Season 2.

The Kissing Booth 2 (2020) – I enjoyed the original Kissing Booth, but didn’t remember a lot of details from that film.  This sequel is cute and entertaining, but probably not memorable long-term either. I did think there were too many love triangles and misunderstandings. The story line could have been simplified without losing anything.

Tamahine (1963) – There’s really not much to this fish out of water story about a young island woman who goes to live with her father’s relative’s in England. The plot is flimsy, the character development is shallow. However, it does serve to showcase Nancy Kwan, who is absolutely delightful as the guileless, utterly charming Tamahine. I’ve seen several of Kwan’s films now and so far this is my favorite of her roles.

Heaven Can Wait (1943) – While I like this film, I don’t love it. Which considering it boasts Ernst Lubitsch as a director and a strong cast including personal faves, Gene Tierney, Don Ameche and Charles Coburn, surprises me. What I can say is Tierney was made for the technicolor screen. I think my main problem is with the narrative. It’s about a womanizer whose wife puts up with his ways and then he gets into Heaven simply based on her love for him.  Charm will get you a lot, but I kind of wish she had shown him the door.

The Gilded Lily (1935)  – Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray are one of the under sung duos of classic film. In their first film together, MacMurray shows more spark than I’m used to seeing from him. I like him in the role of a celebrity reporter which allows him to play more of a common man. I did not however, like the way his character treats Colbert’s whom he is in love with.  Why she chooses to be with him in the end, is beyond me.

The Circle (1925) – Being a Frank Borzage film, this is beautifully shot. The picture content is crisp and it even stars silent screen star Eleanor Boardman. However, I didn’t think the story was very well portrayed. Boardman is a young woman considering leaving her husband whose mother had earlier left him and his father for another man. Boardman invites the mother and her current husband to their home, so she can learn if the choice was worth it. None of the characters are all that likable, and I’m not quite sure what the message of this story is supposed to be. Not to mention, the ending felt strange and incomplete.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) – I’d tried watching this a while ago on Prime and the picture quality was terrible. I’m glad I caught it on TCM, because the cinematography is stunning! Overall, though I’m not a fan of Ernest Hemingway stories. They feel self-indulgent, much like this one about a man near death who is ruminating about his life and the women in it. However, Gregory Peck is always nice to look at. Ava Gardner gives a good performance as his lost love.

Wild Prairie Rose (2016) – I really enjoyed this slower paced, sweet tale of a women who returns home to care for her dying mother. She also begins a relationship with a deaf man who changes her life. This is reminiscent of films like,  Sweet Land, The Magic of Ordinary Days and Sarah, Plain and Tall. It’s a film with meaning, but it doesn’t preach at you.

Under the Greenwood Tree (2005) – It’s been years since I first watched this BBC film adapted from a Thomas Hardy novel. I didn’t remember anything about it, but felt like I didn’t like it. How wrong I was! I loved this simple picture about a young woman who returns to her father’s village as a teacher and atches the eye of three local men. I think the main selling point for me was the chemistry between the two main leads. Plus, it’s everything I love about British productions.

High Sierra (1941) – Despite Humphrey Bogart being so highly praised, he’s not one of my personal favorites. However,  in the right role, he’s magic, much like he is here as a former convict with a soft spot who gets entangled in a heist with a bunch of amateurs. His chemistry with Ida Lupino is fabulous and their scenes together are the best of the film. I’m not surprised this movie has remained so popular.

Cyrano, My Love (2018) – Though I’ve never seen the play or the film versions of Cyrano de Bergerac, this French film about the playwright’s creation of it completely charmed me. It’s portrayal of life acting as the inspiration for art is so fun. And I absolutely loved seeing the behind the scenes goings on of the theater. They are so rich in color, life and character. The actors seem very well cast for their roles. I really appreciated the portrayal of the relationship between the playwright and his muse/inspiration while also balancing out his relationship with his wife. I will definitely watch this one again. UPDATE: I did watch this one again with my mom and sisters. They liked it too.

The Queen’s Gambit (2020) – This Netflix series took a while to grow on me. The story of an orphaned chess prodigy with serious emotional issues and addictions is darker than I usually enjoy. However, the payoff at the end was worth it.  I do love a good redemption story. Anya Taylor Joy is stunning as the heroine in a very competitive, masculine world.

Penthouse (1933) – This is one of my personal favorites and an underrated film of Myrna Loy’s. She stars with Warren Baxter as a call girl who helps his investigative attorney solve a murder.  Loy is adorable in her role which is somewhere between the femme fatale she had been playing and the perfect wife she would come to be known for.  Warren Baxter also shows some personality and I really, really like Nat Pendleton as the gang leader who acts as Baxter’s guardian angel.

Home for Christmas (2019) – This short holiday series from Norway had so much promise. The casting and cinematography is perfection. But the story of a young woman looking to find a date to bring home for Christmas was turned into something crass and shallow.  I was hoping for something more cozy and charming and was very disappointed.

Godless (2017) – Um wow! It’s not often I watch a Western and a series at that. Despite all the graphic violence and foul language, this was fantastic. The main character felt like an homage to the classic Shane. The town full of women defending their turf was a unique spin on the tale.  The director did an excellent job honoring, but re-interpreting the cliches of the classic Western films of days past. And the last couple of minutes made me cry, because of the way it showed the redemption of the main character.

Midnight at the Magnolia (2020) – My first Christmas movie of 2020! Since I no longer get the Hallmark channel, this holiday themed movie filled that gap for me. The lead actress is a little wooden in this friends to lovers trope. But having seen a couple other Netflix Christmas movies that aren’t what I call family friendly, I do appreciate offerings like this.

The Sapphires (2012) – I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this feel-good movie before.  Four Aboriginal female family members form a singing group with a white male manager and tour Vietnam singing for the troops.  The movie did a good job exploring the family dynamics, but was light on digging deeper into racial issues and the impact of the war. However, this didn’t bother me. It does at least introduce the topics for those who wish to dig further on their own. As for me, I enjoyed the uplifting tone of the film.

The Hows of Us (2018) – This movie was very highly rated which is why I finally ventured into my first foray into Filipino films. A broken couple re-lives their relationship in flashbacks which show what led to their break-up. They then must decide if they want to try again. Overall, this is a likable film.  The actors looked very young and at times their relationship felt a bit juvenile. I also felt like a bit of editing wouldn’t have run amiss. It was fun to see the beauty of the Philippines onscreen.

Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) – Look, I knew going into this that it wouldn’t impress me with story or character development or realism for that matter. However, with names like Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Chris Hemsworth attached, I didn’t care. I could watch any of them in just about anything. Theron’s onscreen beauty just about slayed me and Hemsworth is as charming as ever in his role. Chastain’s character was very disappointing.  But hey, it was a fun way to pass a couple of hours.

Comet Over Broadway (1938) – The only thing this classic really has going for it is Kay Francis. She stars as a young mother who must give up her child to pursue success in order to earn enough money to get her husband out of prison for killing a man who hit on her. It’s a far-fetched plot with a lot of holes and jumpy editing, but Francis makes it work.

Night and the City (1950) – Since I’m not a fan of film noir, it was Gene Tierney that drew me to this well-regarded classic. Sadly for me, she has very few scenes and not much to do with them as her character remains on the periphery of the action. Many reviewers praise Richard Widmark’s performance of a small time hood who dooms himself with his schemes. But I was held spellbound by Herbert Lom as the ultimate bad guy Kristo.  He plays him with such intensity! And Googie Withers almost matches him as the wicked femme fatale of the story.

Boys Night Out (1962) – This was a re-watch and one I appreciated more the second time around. James Garner, Tony Randall and Kim Novak star in this rom-com about four men who share an apartment and a girl. But that girl is not what she seems.  Garner’s character is the only single man in the bunch and the one least interested in sexual shenanigans. The bromance among the men was the big selling point for me. And Tony Randall never fails to entertain.

David Copperfield (1935) – With an all star supporting cast and the MGM polish, I figured I’d give this Dickens adaptation a chance. (I find Dickens rather depressing usually). The story wasn’t as gritty as I expected, but what really kept my attention was all the character performances. I think I liked Edna Oliver best. But Dickens’ orphan was also rather more charming than I expected.

On Approval (1944) – An absolutely delightful British comedy about two potential couples who agree to live together for a month to see if they are suited for marriage. The script is sharp, snarky and witty.  Having just seen Googie Withers play a cold-hearted woman in Night and the City, it was great seeing her on the opposite spectrum as a pleasant American heiress.

Clue (1985) – Totally cheesy and yet very hilarious, this film surprised me in the best way. It’s a Who’s Who of 80’s comedic actors. I giggled my way through the whole movie. It ran a little long at the end as it explored scenarios, but it was still worth my time.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) – Though I love Cary Grant and have a soft spot for David Niven, this has never been my favorite Christmas movie.  I think I find the characters a bit dull. But it’s still sweet and captures the Christmas spirit well.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – This is a newer holiday fave that I enjoy re-visiting every year now. It’s charming, thought-provoking and captures the Dickensian aesthetic I’ve imagined in my head.

Million Dollar Baby (1941) – No, not the depressing one starring Hillary Swank. This cute little comedy lifts the spirits and makes me smile every time I watch it. Priscilla Lane is cute as a working girl who inherits one million dollars from an anonymous benefactor.  Her boyfriend is played by Ronald Reagan in what may be my favorite performance of his.  May Robson plays the irascible, but secretly tender hearted benefactress.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) – It’s been a long while since I watched the original version of this movie, but my mom prefers this 90’s one. It is very sweet and Mara Wilson really steals the show and hearts as the young girl who doesn’t believe in Santa. But the antagonists are so one-dimensional and cheesy.

Dr. No (1962) Sean Connery was the selling point for me to finally watch the original James Bond film. Which is good, because he was the only thing I found interesting about it.  The story was rather straight-forward which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it just didn’t hold my attention.

Dash & Lily (2020) – Though I haven’t read the book, if it is as adorable as this Netflix series, I’m sure to love it. It’s been a long while since entertainment provided such a loving presentation of Christmas in New York City.  It’s full of holiday cheer,  interesting characters and a sweet YA story line that even adults can appreciate.

This is Us Season 5 – Over the years the amount of regular television programming I watch has decreased to almost nothing. But this popular series was an exception for me. I loved it’s focus on family. However, as it has started taking on more current issues and political tones, not to mention the addition of new characters, I’ve begun to lose interest. I am fairly well informed as to what is going on in the world and don’t need my entertainment weighing in. I watch television to escape all that. Not to mention, I miss the show’s focus on the nucleus of the family. I’m not really interested in all the peripheral characters that have been added and their story lines that are still dangling out there. And so, after watching the first couple episodes of this season, I am sadly but officially DNF-ing this series.

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