January 2020 Quickie Film Reviews

January 2020 BREAKDOWN
  • 30 films/series total
  • 10 new classic films
  • 5 foreign films/series
  • 5 TV series
  • 5 re-watches
  • 3 documentaries
  • 2 silent films
  • 1 new release

Biggest DisappointmentNoah’s Ark and What the Durrells Did Next

The Affairs of Martha

Favorite Discovery – This month was a win with multiple favorites; Wolf Hall, Orchard House, The Affairs of Martha, My Brilliant Career

3 Godfathers (1948) – The story of three outlaws on the run who become the caretakers of a new baby is one that has been told before. Having first seen an earlier version of this film which is more stark and less sentimental, I must say I prefer it to this John Ford interpretation. However, that’s not to say that this isn’t a well made film. The desolation of the landscape is a stand out here as is John Wayne’s performance. I liked seeing Ward Bond in his role as a lawman who is intelligent and patient.  Even though I prefer the earlier film, they are different enough in tone, that I don’t think it’s fair to compare them. They are both great films in their own right.

The Durrells in Corfu Season 4 (2019) – I finally got around to watching the final season of this quirky, but lovable series. Over the years these characters have annoyed, frustrated, puzzled and delighted me. This season was a beautiful tribute to the whole series and to the real life Durrell family. The final episode was the best. It gave me all the feels and made me cry. I am sad to see this come to an end.

What the Durrells Did Next (2019) – This brief half hour documentary narrated by Keeley Hawes, that discusses the Durrell family after they left Corfu was not quite what I hoped for. The main focus was on the youngest, Gerry, and his success as a celebrated animal rights zoologist. I wanted more details about the lives of the other siblings. I’m guessing that either there wasn’t enough information known or it was negative.

Orchard House: Home of LIttle Women (2018) -What a great short documentary. I learned so much not only about Louisa May Alcott and the family home, but also about the other Alcott family members. Not to mention there were great indoor shots of the home itself and it is clear how well loved and cared for it is. If you are a fan of Alcott or Little Women, I highly recommend this.

The Affairs of Martha (1942) – An absolutely delightful comedy. Child actress Virginia Weidler is a highlight in a role similar to the one she has in The Philadelphia Story. Not to mention I’m always thrilled to see Marjorie Main in a a movie. This story of a maid writing an expose on the family she works for is played for laughs, replete with a secret marriage and misunderstandings. It moves along at a zippy pace that is well worth your time.

Northanger Abbey (2007) – I’d forgotten much about this particular Austen tale.  But Felicity Jones & JJ Feild do much to bring it to life with great charm and humor. Of all Austen’s heroines, I think I prefer Catherine Morland in her innocence, her naivety, her love for books, even when these things lead her into foolishness. Yet she remains sweet, kind and sincere. Feild is a more light-hearted Austen hero and I greatly appreciate his teasing portrayal of Henry Tilney. I won’t wait so long to watch this one again.

Beauty and the Beast (2014) – An absolutely gorgeous French  production of this classic fairy tale, it captured my interest immediately. However, it also lacked heart. Belle is the focus of this tale.  Her character is inconsistent, first sweet but then becoming defiant and cruel when living with the Beast. It’s not the fairy tale story I’m used to. The relationship between them felt underdeveloped which made it hard to believe their romance. This interpretation had more elements of fantasy than fairy tale, and it’s certainly a unique adaptation worth seeing for that.

Wolf Hall (2015) This series is one which must be watched in full before it’s impact hits. And when it does, wow, it packs quite a punch. It is an in depth character study of some very famous historical figures, namely Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Though they have been much studied and depicted multiple times, its’ never been quite like this. From the real settings, to the costumes and the casting, this series excels. I was not crazy about the characterization of Anne Boleyn, but can’t complain about Claire Foy’s performance. The final scene between Henry and Cromwell was one of the best endings I’ve ever seen.

Call the Midwife Holiday Special (2019) – The residents of Nonnatus House visit the Outer Hebrides for rest and also to scout out a potential new location. As usual, this show pulled all my heart strings and I found myself crying towards the end. It knows how to plumb the depths and nuances of the human heart and continues to do it well.

Badehotellet/Seaside Hotel Season 1 & 2 (2013) A Danish series advertised as another Downton Abbey type which portrays the inner workings of a summer seaside hotel where the lives of the wealthy patrons intertwine with those who serve them. This one slowly grew on me as the character development unrolled. I love the friendships among the hotel maids. And the main character Fie is so sweet and helpful but displays a backbone of steel when necessary. The gorgeous Danish coastline and the late twenties fashions only enhance the quiet beauty of this series.

Malaal (2019) – Why are Indian films so long? It must be the inclusion of musical numbers which aren’t necessary to the story.  As much as I like Bollywood dance sequences, it drags down the film. This is the familiar story of a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks being transformed by his love of the good girl. It was a bit cheesy and melodramatic, but still an entertaining film. The actor looks like an Indian Jesus. I was not at all prepared for the way the film ended and not overly happy with it either, but for those who like unpredictable romances, it certainly contains a surprise.

A Star is Born (1937) – The original, non-musical version of this film is still my favorite, thanks to the performances by Janet Gaynor and Frederic March.  Gaynor’s Esther Blodgett is a little too perfect a character compared to other interpretations, a saint instead of a human being. That is my only complaint. Adolphe Menjou makes the most of his supporting role and March creates an extremely sympathetic but flawed hero.

The Highwaymen (2019) – Excellent character depictions by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson make this feature about the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde more interesting than it would be otherwise. It’s fairly slow moving, but that gives time for these two seasoned actors to show off their chops in understated performances of two former Texas Rangers.  The friendship between the two men adds another layer to their story. One of the most surprising scenes however is one Costner’s character has with Clyde’s father where they discuss the paths the two have traveled and how things could have been different.

Finding Your Roots Season 6 – I love anything related to genealogy. It’s such a fascinating subject! Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the perfect host for a show like this. He’s great at asking open ended questions of his celebrity guests, and displays wonderful empathy. He celebrates what draws us together as the human race but doesn’t ignore the tragedies of history. I’ve grown in compassion and empathy through watching this series.

The Enemy Below (1957) – Whew! This game of wits between a German submarine captain and the captain of a battle destroyer during WWII was like an intense game of chess on the sea. It took a while for me to get invested, but the tension just kept racheting up with each countermove the captains made. I’m a fan of Robert Mitchum but Curt Jurgens is the one who steals the show as the German U-boat captain.

Dragonwyck (1946) – An innocent gets entangled with a wealthy controlling man. This deliciously gothic tale was even more interesting the second time around. Vincent Price is perfectly cast as the menacing villian and my personal fave Gene Tierney does well as the woman who falls under his spell. The cinematography enhances the feel of unspoken menace and suspense.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – I’ve heard much praise for this film over the years. Director David Lean really is amazing with a camera. He captures the spirit of his setting and the brutal beauty of a Japanese POW camp. He also manages to capture the duality of every character, proving that none are truly good or evil but influenced by their personal perspectives. However, I didn’t love this as much as everyone else seems too. It felt a bit too long for me and I really disliked the ending although I understand the point that it made.

Written on the Wind (1956) – If nothing else, the colors in this Douglas Sirk drama really pop. So does Dorothy Malone’s performance in this story of a love quadrangle and a dysfunctional family. Though Rock Hudson acquits himself well, he is still outperformed by Malone, Robert Stack and Lauren Bacall.

Imitation of Life (1934) – A full review of this will be coming later. But I liked this much better than the remake starring Lana Turner which descended into soapy territory. Louise Beavers performance is the heart of this story about mother-daughter relationships and race.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – An absolutely gorgeous French production and the first time the Beast looks like a rock star who borrowed his clothes from Elton John! It’s also a more surrealistic interpretation of this familiar fairy tale as well as being considered one of the best. In a time before CGI, it’s amazing what Jean Marais was able to accomplish in his performance as the Beast.

Tombstone (1993) – No matter how many times I watch this one, it never gets old. It’s always just as good as the first time I saw it.  Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is one of the best screen characters ever portrayed in film, in my opinion. The rest of the large cast gives great performances also.

The Seven Year Itch (1955) – This picture which takes a look at a man’s inner thought life and temptations, felt a bit too self-indulgent. And shocker! This man’s thoughts center around women, sex and self-delusions of grandeur. I don’t think I needed a two hour movie to tell me something I already know and which brought nothing new to the table. Marilyn Monroe is adorable if a bit ditzy. Seriously, no one can be that dumb or naive. But she did have something special about her that makes you want to wrap her up in fine cotton for protection while men ogle her.

The Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) – I kinda feel like Brad Pitt is the Gregory Peck of our time in that he tends to star in social conscience films. This one definitely left me with a lot of thoughts and had me questioning what I believe and how I apply that in my daily life. I honestly thought Dorothy McGuire was rather boring as Peck’s love interest and would much rather have seen him matched with Celeste Holm who was at her most beautiful here. John Garfield, as usual, is compelling in his performance as Peck’s Jewish friend and sounding board.

Noah’s Ark (1928) – This started out promising. Director MIchael Curtiz excels at depicting all humanity by creating it within a microcosmic movie world like he did here in the opening train scenes. I also like the creative idea he had of drawing a comparison the world of WWI to the biblical story of Noah. Unfortunately, it was not well done, the editing is choppy, the characters cliche and the performances over done. And sadly, I must say, I don’t think Dolores Costello is much of an actress.

My Brilliant Career (1979) –  I loved just about everything about this Australian picture which portrays a young girl who struggles to choose between love and her dream. I related so well to her struggle as I’m sure most women do at one point or another.  Actress Judy Davis captures the wild innocence of the heroine and looks like a young Nicole Kidman while doing so. The settings and cinematography were absolutely gorgeous, one scene even reminding me of a Rembrandt painting. Absolutely brilliant!

The Boys and Girl from County Clare (2003) – A young Shaun Evans (of recent Endeavour fame) really shines here as a sensitive musician who falls for a girl from a competing ceili band. Of course, the gorgeous Irish settings and the story about estranged brothers played by Colm Meaney and Bernard Hill also give this film some soul. Music, love and family, what could be better than that?

Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) – The more of John Gilbert’s films I see, the more I fall under his spell. He really is underrated and it’s a shame what the studio did to him. This historical adventure/romance is all kinds of fun thanks to Gilbert who always does well in romantic swashbuckling roles. As much as I admire Eleanor Boardman, she and Gilbert just don’t have much chemistry, but Gilbert works hard to overcome that.  Wonderful direction by King Vidor adds to the energy of this picture.

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – The Captain America series is one of my favorites with the larger Marvel library. I can never get enough of the friendship between Steve and Bucky. I’m a real sucker for loyalty and a good redemption arc.

Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor (2018)  – This documentary explored not only the salacious custody trial that Astor went through but also gave a sympathetic look at the life of this talented actress. My only complaint is that I wish it would have given her daughter more screen time in her reminisces of her mother. But it certainly increased my interest in seeing more of Astor’s films.

The Last Full Measure (2020) – This big screen release follows the assignment of an indifferent government official in acquiring a posthumous Medal of Honor for a Vietnam vet. It’s a slow, quiet, thoughtful drama that I didn’t fully appreciate until the end. I didn’t always understand all the reminisces of the other veterans being interviewed, but it did magnify the sacrifices of those who served in Vietnam and the power of one man to make a difference.

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