May 2021 Quickie Reviews

may 2021 BREAKDOWN
  • 39 films/series total
  • 15 new classic films
  • 12 re-watches
  • 7 TV series
  • 2 silent films
  • 1 foreign films
  • 1 documentary
  • 1 new release

Biggest Disappointment: Operator 13, Skirts Ahoy!

Fred Astaire & Joan Leslie in The Sky’s the Limit

Favorite Discovery: The Cafe, The Sky’s the Limit, A Damsel in Distress

Kate & Koji (2020) – I love Brenda Blethyn, but her character in this British comedy series is rather obnoxious. Still it’s fun to watch her non-PC character interact with the African asylum seeker she “befriends” while also offending everyone who enters her seaside cafe.

Atlantic Crossing (2020) – Whew! From the first episode, this is an intense  experience. I love that it is introducing the little known historical relationship between FDR and the Princess of Norway. I really got sucked in thanks to great performances which made me very curious about real life events.

Marley’s Ghosts (2015) – This is another cute comedy series about a woman who finds herself stuck living with the ghosts of her husband, lover and vicar. Episodes are under 30 minutes which is just right. I really appreciated how the finale wrapped everything up so well.

Operator 13 (1934) – Today’s cultural awareness made it hard to sit through the first third of this film watching Marion Davies act in black face and playing up all the racial stereotypes, even if she did do a good job of it. She and co-star Gary Cooper play opposing Civil War spies who fall in love but just don’t have much chemistry. It wasn’t terrible, but I was also glad when it was over.

Open Range (2003) – This is one of my mom’s favorite Westerns, and I enjoyed re-watching it with her. Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall and Annette Bening are wonderful in parsed down, but strong portrayals of the main characters. The scenic vistas are gorgeous.

Stand By For Action (1942) – This WWII drama went a little longer than I though was necessary. While I like Brian Donlevy, I’m not sure he was right for his role as the captain of a recommissioned ship. Robert Taylor plays his executive officer with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk suggesting his easy-going nature. I loved Charles Laughton as their superior officer and Walter Brennan as a supporting character. There is a weird sub-plot about the crew picking up a group of stranded babies and expectant mothers that felt out of place in this.

Inherit the Wind (1960) – I finally made the time to watch this great court room drama based on the famous Scopes Monkey trial. Acting titans Frederic March and Spencer Tracy give fabulous performances and are ably supported by Gene Kelly in a non-musical role as a cynical, smarmy reporter. I was a bit uncomfortable with how it portrayed the sincerity of the townspeople’s faith, Having grown up in a small town like this one, I didn’t feel the film treated their religious beliefs seriously, even if there are some hypocritical aspects about it.

Hide-Out (1934) – This is one of my favorite of Robert Montgomery’s films. He plays a society gangster who hides out on a rural farm and falls in love with the honest life and the family’s daughter played by Maureen O’Sullivan. Mickey Rooney just about steals the show as her high-spirited younger brother. It’s just a lot of fun.

Home Town Takeover (2021) – My favorite HGTV couple is back at it, this time renovating the town of Wetumpka, Alabama. I find the focus on small town revitalization so interesting and necessary and I love how Ben and Erin portray their genuine passion for it. Special guests from other HGTV and Discovery shows make cameo appearances each episode, which is a fun way to share the load of such a major project.

Almost Paradise (2020) – This joint American and Filipino venture is a fun, action and adventure packed criminal series featuring a retired American DEA agent who has retired to a Filipino island for his mental and physical health. Unfortunately, he gets pulled back into his high-stress job through a  collaborating partnership with the local police force. I love seeing the island of Cebu featured as the setting.

I Love Trouble (1948) – I’m not sure why I had this pegged as a comedy/mystery, but it was definitely more of a film noir.  I doubt I would have watched it if I didn’t have vague memories of it being highly recommended. Though looking haggard, Franchot Tone does a good job as the world weary, jaded detective. The women in this one all kind of looked the same to me and I had a hard time keeping track of who was who. Overall, I didn’t love this as much as other reviewers have, but it was enjoyable, nonetheless.

Skirts Ahoy! (1952) – I had real hopes for this female friendship musical about three different women who become close after joining the WAVES. Esther Williams is literally, the only reason this is worth watching and the only reason I even bothered to finish it Some how she makes it bearable. Otherwise, the romances are lackluster, the musical numbers forgettable and the other actors didn’t make much of an impression on me.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013) – I remember finding this Swedish film darkly hilarious after discovering it several years ago.  After seeing it was still on Prime, I had to watch it again, and found it just as funny. It’s adapted from a very successful, popular novel about an elderly man who escapes his nursing home and finds himself caught up in some intrigue. Flashbacks show his life and his unsuspecting presence at many historical world events. My mom compared it to Forrest Gump.

Love Sarah (2020) – This film was recommended by my friends over at The Silver Petticoat Review. Even though I don’t like cooking myself, I love shows about chefs and bakers. This one features three women who come together to open a bakery in honor of their mother, daughter and best friend who died. It had a slow start but really explored the emotional landscape of grief and loss. I loved the  creative direction the women chose to take the bakery, and really enjoyed seeing Rupert Penry-Jones as the chef/baker who must maneuver the emotional landmines working with this group of women.

Three Little Words (1950) – Based on the partnership between turn of the century song writing team Bert Kolmar and Harry Ruby (who wrote songs for the Marx Brothers films), this is one of Fred Astaire’s lesser known pictures. He’s partnered with Red Skelton as one half of the famous duo and Vera-Ellen as his early dance partner turned wife. Vera-Ellen is an actress/dancer who continues to grow in my respect. She’s a beautiful dancer and she and Astaire float like air in their dance scenes together.  I appreciated Skelton toning down his normal onscreen persona and really liked the story line of this film. I’m just not as big a fan of the era in which it is set. Gorgeous costumes by Helen Rose for a roster full of beautiful women like Arlene Dahl, Gloria DeHaven and Gale Robbins are the icing on this cake.

The Sky’s the Limit (1943) – This may have just become one of my new favorite Fred Astaire films. His acting feels more natural and understated and evenly balanced with his talent as a dancer. He had a lot of fabulous onscreen female partners, but I’m surprised to say Joan Leslie is divine opposite Astaire. This may be one of her best roles. She sparkles and shines and more than keeps up with him. There are some great dance numbers, two of which they do together, one of which is playful, the other a gorgeous ballroom scene together. And I love Astaire’s angry glass dance towards the end. It’s rare to see him look disheveled, but it totally suits the mood. I will definitely watch this one again.

So This is Paris (1926) – This silent Lubitsch comedy is highly praised and beautifully restored.  I enjoyed the story involving the shenanigans of two couples, but I really missed the verbal innuendo in the director’s talking films. Still I’m thrilled silent classics like these are getting exposure and attention.

A Damsel in Distress (1937) – Yes, it’s another less talked about Fred Astaire picture, and yes he’s wonderful in it. But how have I lived this long without the delight that is Gracie Allen Burns in my life?! She stole the show and I immediately started looking up her other films. I really enjoyed the three person dance scenes with Astaire, Gracie and her husband George Burns. It’s a nice change of pace from Astaire’s regular romantic dance partners. The performance in the carnival fun house was especially fun. Sadly, I agree with other reviewers who believe Joan Fontaine very miscast as Astaire’s love interest.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2008) – I enjoyed revisiting this one. Everything about it is so grand; the story scope, the imagery, the character journeys…  And yet I also find it an  intimate and personal experience, with so many things I can deeply relate to.

The Proposal (2009) – I’d been wanting to re-watch this one for a while and was glad I did. Though this rom-com about a male assistant who is coerced into becoming engaged to his hardcore female boss is not the best ever made, Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock make it enjoyable. The supporting cast is also fabulous, particularly Betty White as Reynolds free-spirit grammy and Oscar Nunez as the town’s multi-tasking immigrant resident.

You’ve Got Mail (1998) – This film is not only one of my happy places, but also my favorite pairing of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I also happen to think it is a better adaption of the Hungarian play Perfumerie, than The Shop Around the Corner or In the Good Old Summertime (don’t @me classic film fans!) It’s also a love letter to New York City and boasts one of the best soundtracks ever produced.

The Stratton Story (1949) – I just realized I’ve seen several underdog baseball star movies lately, including 42 about Jackie Robinson,  The Pride of the Yankees about Lou Gherig and The Winning Team starring Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander. This one features Jimmy Stewart as Monty Stratton and June Allyson as his wife. Stewart is always great in roles like this, a down home hero type. And Allyson is less annoying than usual for me. But unfortunately  watching this many baseball films has caused them to kind of run together for me with the only true stand out being 42.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) I had so many memories of scenes from this film which actually turned out to be from the third Narnia film. So, it was good to re-watch this. There are so many great allegories and hidden wisdom and truths in this story which a couple of times found me very emotional. The absence of Aslan from most of the film is intentional and definitely felt, but for a purpose. Reepicheep is still my favorite Narnia character from these movies.

How to Fall in Love (2012) This has long been one of my favorite Hallmark movies and one which I’ve seen many times. I believe in large part it is due to Eric Mabius and Brooke d’Orsay playing the leads. They are both so sweet and believable in this reverse Cinderella tale about a former geek who hires his high school crush to give him dating lessons.

The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951) – This stark labor drama has long been on my radar because it was filmed in New Hampshire where I once lived. I was thrilled TCM aired it as part of this year’s film festival. Lloyd Bridges gives an outstanding performance as a union labor leader who is promoted to president of the company and suddenly finds himself at odds with his former buddies when he gains a better understanding of the challenges and responsibilities faced by management. The picture does a good job giving a balanced look at both sides while making the rogue labor agitators the villains. It’s definitely a good look at certain slice of American history.

The Cafe (2011) – Three generations of women run a seaside cafe in England. This little show is exactly the kind of series I’m always looking for, something with a quirky charm, great setting and which highlights relationships and character arcs, instead of being plot driven. The 30 minutes episodes fly by too fast. And the show’s intro theme song is the cherry on top. My only disappointment is the somewhat unresolved ending.

The Rebel (2016) – Simon Callow is fantastic in this hilarious series about a retired widower who acts out his grief by reverting to his former “mod, hippy” days in rebelling against authority. He’s the grumpiest (but also funniest) old man, I’ve ever seen.

Daniel’s Daughter (2008) – I like Laura Leighton in this sweet made for tv film about a women who returns home from the small town she escaped to bury the father who abandoned her. It is a bit odd that it feels like it is set in Ireland and yet the setting is a small Massachusetts town.

Lovers Courageous (1932) – Robert Montgomery doesn’t get enough credit for his acting, but I think it’s because many of his films are mediocre. Here he is paired well with Madge Evans as a young couple who struggle with the financial inequity of their situations. Both actors give very tender and moving performances and are surrounded by a great supporting cast.

A Girl, a Guy and a Gob (1941) – I’ve had this sitting on my DVR for the longest time but finally decided to give this one a go thanks to a recent positive review I read. I wouldn’t think a film starring Lucille Ball,  George Murphy and Edmund O’Brien would be so appealing, but it was! Ball keeps her comedy skills understated here as the girlfriend to Murphy and the secretary to O’Brien. Murphy plays it goofy, but eventually displays a hidden side of understanding and tenderness. And O’Brien! Who would have thought he would be so touching as a romantic lead. This underrated comedy definitely deserves more attention.

The Public Menace (1935) – I’m not sure how this Jean Arthur film escaped my notice before. I’m a huge fan and had never even heard of this one. She plays an immigrant who tricks George Murphy’s reporter into marrying her and then gets them both mixed up with a gangster. While it’s not the best of this type of film I’ve seen, I did enjoy it. I’ve never been a fan of Murphy, but he is slowly winning me over, thanks to performances like this. Although I have to admit, the two of them seem mis-matched onscreen.

The Little Hut (1957) – Although this is a silly, shallow little comedy about a love triangle between a husband, wife and their closest friend stranded together on a deserted island, I don’t care. Is it completely implausible, that they would all be so civil to each other? that the husband would be so obtuse? that they could create an island utopia on the little they carried with them? or that they could all manage to formally dress for dinner in their best clothes while living the wild life? Yes. But David Niven’s lazy charm is always engaging and Ava Gardner is absolutely gorgeous and entertainingly sly, so it’s a winner in my book.

Never Too Late (2020) – I have a soft spot for films about elderly people and the challenges and adjustments they face. I chose this one thinking it was a comedy, but it also ended up featuring some sobering moments as some of the characters face the vagaries of disease and death. Overall, this story about a group of former elite military escape artists who band together once more to escape their  nursing home was entertaining, although the pacing of the film was inconsistent at times.

Bashful (1917) – Bebe Daniels co-stars with Harold Lloyd in this comedy short which shows Lloyd at the beginning of his famous onscreen persona. It manages to tell a concise story, be creatively funny and entertain, all in the space of less than twenty minutes.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) – The more I explore Tony Randall’s movies, the more I believe he is extremely underrated as a comedic actor. This is one of his more famous performances and one where he gets to be the leading man.  Randall is fabulous as the talented, but under-achieving ad-exec who gets mixed up with a famous actress and suddenly finds himself in the public spotlight and with all the career success he can handle. He even gets to display some of his real-life balletic training in a small dance sequence. Although, Randall was often relegated to (scene-stealing) supporting roles, he proves here that he deserved more opportunities to play leading men in his own special niche.

Finding You (2021) – I was thrilled to get back into the theater to see the adaptation of Jenny B. Jones wonderful YA book There You’ll Find Me. Though the only “famous face” I recognized is Vanessa Redgrave, the lesser known cast did a wonderful job bringing this story to life. The film stuck pretty close to the book in portraying the sweetness and angst, the emotions and depth of this plot while slightly updating to make it more relevant than when the book was first released. It was wonderful to get the chance to see a good romantic dramedy again.

The Booksellers (2019) – I expected to really love this documentary about rare book sellers and the history of the book trade and book stores in New York City. I did learn some interesting things, but had to force myself to finish it. The pace was very slow and I found myself occasionally bored. The main thing I learned is that I am not a book lover, like many of the people featured in this documentary, but a story lover.  There is a difference.

Big Business (1988) – I’d forgotten how much fun this comedy is! Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler have fantastic chemistry playing two sets of twins switched at birth. And seeing 1980’s New York was a blast from the past that I enjoyed.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960) – Well, if this didn’t just transport me right back to childhood…and it’s been about that long since I watched this Disney family classic. It was such a pleasure to revisit this movie and I enjoyed it as much as I used to.

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