365 day movie challenge 2014

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #238: Road House (1989) - dir. Rowdy Herrington

This cult classic has plenty of fightin’, lovin’ and swearin’ (alleh meiles - “all the virtues,” as my grandmother would say in Yiddish). Or, as one tagline for the movie reads: “The Dancing Is Over. Now It Gets Dirty.” Patrick Swayze does plenty of sweet roundhouse kicks to dudes’ faces, Sam Elliott sports one of the greatest unruly manes of hair in film history and Ben Gazzara is one of the most over-the-top villains ever as the rich guy who rules the town. (And I do mean ever.) I love how he lives across the water from Swayze like some kind of late-80s Gatsby. Meanwhile, Kevin Tighe plays yet another unsettling character (one of many in his collection); he’s not a bad guy, but there’s still something distinctly creepy about him. (Good acting, I guess?) I don’t quite get the appeal of Kelly Lynch as the love interest - Kathleen Wilhoite is cuter and she proves herself to be a good singer in one scene - but it’s a movie where the guy has to get the girl no matter how little time they’ve known each other and no matter how little personality the script allows her. Speaking of the singing: the Jeff Healey Band plays throughout! Jeff Healey plays an actual character (“Cody”) and has lines of dialogue! That’s the best part of the whole movie. (Well, that and the bad guy who laughs absurdly maliciously after setting another character’s house on fire. I’m going to browse the whole Tumblr tag until I find that moment in a gif.) But seriously, watch Road House for Jeff Healey. He was so, so talented. It’s not that you shouldn’t watch the movie for all the fight choreography and nudity (oh, Mr. Swayze, you looked good), but honestly, the band members are the only guys who finish the picture with all their dignity intact.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #195: Waterloo Bridge (1940) - dir. Mervyn LeRoy

This quite fine adaptation of the World War I romance stars the incomparable Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor (he gives the best performance I have seen from him so far). Joseph Ruttenberg’s Oscar-nominated cinematography is exquisite, particularly in a memorable scene set in the “Candlelight Club.” The best supporting performance is given by Maria Ouspenskaya as the ballet mistress from hell, a woman without an ounce of sympathy or tenderness. There are no real surprises in this film, just a tearjerker of a story with great acting from the two leads.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #31: Rollercoaster (1977) - dir. James Goldstone

Why do I feel like that Vincent Canby comment on the poster is such a backhanded compliment? Anyway, this is a fun 70s disaster movie. You got your mustachioed George Segal, you got your stalwarts Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, you got your Timothy Bottoms as the nameless mad bomber, you got your teenage Helen Hunt in 70s teen clothes and 70s teen hair. Nice to see Harry Guardino as well, though Susan Strasberg has very little to do. Great amusement park locations, cinematography by David M. Walsh and a score by Lalo Schifrin help make this a memorable sort-of-thriller (and help you overlook some of the plot holes).

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #313: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) - dir. Otto Preminger

I didn’t really enjoy this noir much. Maybe my cold and sore throat, which have been nagging me for days, were what got in the way of the viewing experience. I’m not a huge fan of either Dana Andrews or Gene Tierney; they are capable of doing good work depending on the role and the director, and here I just didn’t like what was offered. I think it was a combination of both the roles that each had and the acting - they don’t have any chemistry in this film. (I really do need to see Laura again to get a sense of what they were like together in that one…) Don’t care for Gary Merrill either. Nice to see Ruth Donnelly, though; she always livened up any picture she was in. Good photography by Joseph LaShelle too.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #181: The Divorcee (1930) - dir. Robert Z. Leonard

This pre-Code drama, for which Norma Shearer won the Best Actress Oscar, has some good moments, but it’s not really my cup of tea. (I’ve never really been a fan of Shearer.) Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel and Robert Montgomery are among her love interests, but none of them are particularly interesting. (I have a bit of a soft spot for Nagel, who later turned up as Jane Wyman’s middle-aged boyfriend in All That Heaven Allows, but he’s not exactly Clark Gable.) There’s some inspired cinematography by Norbert Brodine, though.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #210: Silent Movie (1976) - dir. Mel Brooks

Though there are some Brooks films that are great, I don’t think that this is one of them. Some gags are funny, but a number of them don’t work as well as they should have. The whole movie works off of a great concept, but it gets a little tired by the end (unfortunate since it’s not a long film - less than an hour and a half). The best scenes are everything with Burt Reynolds, Harold Gould frothing at the mouth, the Flamenco dance with Brooks, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise and Anne Bancroft, the scene with Sid Caesar in the hospital (bonus points: the geriatric dancing room) and the scene of Brooks and Bernadette Peters dancing to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (an amusing precursor to her dancing it in Pennies from Heaven fives years later).

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #39: Pulp (1972) - dir. Mike Hodges

This very entertaining (if weird) dark comedy, styled after classic noirs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, stars Michael Caine as a pulp fiction writer who must contend with personalities played by Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander, Lizabeth Scott, Nadia Cassini, Dennis Price, Al Lettieri and Leopoldo Trieste. Give it a try. It’s a little baffling, but there’s a lot of great dialogue.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #67: Anna Christie (1930) - dir. Jacques Feyder

This German-language version of the Greta Garbo talkie co-stars Theo Shall as Garbo’s boyfriend, Hans Junkermann as Garbo’s father, famed writer Salka Viertel as Junkermann’s girlfriend and Herman Bing (uncredited) as Larry the bartender. The film is lacking the enjoyably robust Charles Bickford in the love interest role, but it benefits from the performances by Junkermann and Viertel, who are nowhere near as hammy as George F. Marion and Marie Dressler in the English-language version. The dialogue is also better without the English “gee, sure” stuff.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #295: Lili (1953) - dir. Charles Walters

What a good movie! It made me cry quite a bit, but it was so beautifully done. I just adore Leslie Caron (I feel honored to have met her and briefly spoken to her) and I’ve grown to really appreciate Mel Ferrer. They’re terrific here, giving their characters many interesting facets. Charles Walters was a very good and underrated director, receiving his only Academy Award nomination for this film. (Lili was quite the sleeper hit, also being nominated for Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration and winning an Academy Award for Best Score, which had been composed by Bronislau Kaper.) Jean-Pierre Aumont and Kurt Kasznar are also good here, and even Zsa Zsa Gabor is credible. But Lili belongs to Caron and Ferrer, who both have such strong presences in front of the camera. I am especially glad to have finally seen the film because I remember that my grandmother used to have a VHS copy of it and since she did not usually watch movies, it had to have been a particularly special one for her.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #182: The Marrying Kind (1952) - dir. George Cukor

There are some good things about this film: Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray seem like a realistic couple, both during the highs and the lows. Mickey Shaughnessy has a great monologue about working and being married, while an uncredited Joan Shawlee (Sweet Sue from Some Like It Hot) has a great scene dancing the rumba with Ray at a party. Joseph Walker’s cinematography looks really nice in some scenes too. Telling the film through the flashback structure sometimes feels like a stretch (the whole idea of a judge sticking around for hours after the workday ends in order to hear a couple’s seven-year history is ridiculous), and sometimes the shouting between Holliday and Ray is a little too shrill, but this is still basically a good movie.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #135: Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) - dir. Dorothy Arzner

Any film directed by Arzner is fascinating, but this one is a little on the stagy side. Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March do well as the couple faced with the challenges of alcoholism and adultery, surrounded by interesting character actors and a young Cary Grant. Mostly what’s interesting is the direction of the actors and some of the cinematographic choices by David Abel, primarily in the film’s opening scene on a terrace. The film is most effective as an example of female filmmaking with subject matter that could be approached during the brief but glorious pre-Code era. What could have been a preachy morality tale feels more modern and touching thanks to Arzner’s handling of the material, even with some of March’s more unfortunately theatrical moments.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #49: Stand and Deliver (1988) - dir. Ramón Menéndez

I get why this is movie is part of a certain zeitgeist (if I’m using that word correctly?), but I’ve seen better from 1988. (I also kept thinking of Mr. Cartmanez.) I think there are problems with the screenplay, though perhaps they are coupled with editing problems. There are a number of scenes that seem to end on dialogue rather than on action before rapidly cutting to the next scene, which is jarring and also a no-no in screenwriting. (Actions are stronger than dialogue and I guess they usually make for easier transitions.) The acting is basically pretty good - the scene when Edward James Olmos is on the night school stairs probably helped get him his Oscar nomination - but it’s a little too obvious that Lou Diamond Phillips is in his mid-to-late 20s rather than 16-17.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #187: The Sugarland Express (1974) - dir. Steven Spielberg

There’s some great cinematography courtesy of Vilmos Zsigmond in the feature film debut by Steven Spielberg. Goldie Hawn and William Atherton, early in both of their careers, are good, but the story lacked much excitement for me. Ben Johnson didn’t seem to do much. Michael Sacks was good, I guess - what happened to his career? Interesting movie, especially for the Panaflex camerawork, but only essential for Spielberg enthusiasts.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #148: Three Colors: Red (1994) - dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski

Having now finished the trilogy (thank you, Museum of Modern Art!), I am not sure how I rank the three films, other than Blue definitely being my favorite. I think I like Red better than White, but Irène Jacob plays the least interesting of Kieslowski’s three protagonists in the trilogy. (Her performance is good, but nowhere near the level of Juliette Binoche or, to a slightly lesser degree, Zbigniew Zamachowski.) I do love Jean-Louis Trintignant, though, wonderful actor that he is, and his performance elevates Red. Many of Piotr Sobocinski’s shots are great, especially the photos taken during the bubblegum photoshoot and at the fashion show with its red seats, but still, nothing comes close to the rich shades seen in Blue. The score by Zbigniew Preisner is again quite good, though. It’s a shame that this turned out to be Kieslowski’s last film, but it does tie together nicely at the end.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #175: I’m No Angel (1933) - dir. Wesley Ruggles

Like She Done Him Wrong, this is yet another fun Mae West pre-Code comedy. As both star and screenwriter, West sashays through the film as circus performer Tira, wearing a lot of glorious gowns and hats, riffing with a lot of great zingers. Cary Grant seems much more at ease than he was in She Done Him Wrong; here he wears modern-day suits and he’s not covered in pancake makeup and egregious amounts of eyeshadow. Cinematographer Leo Tover lights the picture beautifully. If you love pre-Code films, this one’s a must.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #112: Orlando (1992) - dir. Sally Potter

Watching this for a film class assignment, I must say I was impressed by the cinematography, the costumes and certain aspects of the acting - the general atmosphere of the film, I suppose - and yet it left me feeling distant. (Also, that poster lies; Billy Zane is hardly in the film.) I don’t suppose Virginia Woolf’s novel could have been easy to adapt, and I guess Potter did the best she could, but I felt somehow dissatisfied, even with the glorious Tilda Swinton at the helm. (Casting Quentin Crisp as Queen Elizabeth was also pretty brilliant.) I sort of wish the romance had been between Swinton and Lothaire Bluteau, who have some interesting chemistry but no action other than a hug of solidarity before a battle. I think my favorite supporting performance was from John Wood, who plays the wonderfully named “Archduke Harry.” As I said, the actors are not at fault. Even Billy Zane and his unruly mop are good, mostly because of the way the character is written and the way his looks oddly fit in with the androgynous nature of the relationship portrayed. The story’s messages about sex, gender and societal roles come across quite well. By the end of the film, though, I just sort of shrugged and wondered, OK, so what now?

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #66: Monte Walsh (1970) - dir. William A. Fraker

I know that this Western is supposed to be a great, elegiac drama, but I didn’t like it that much. It’s not the fault of Lee Marvin (with terrible hair) or Jack Palance, two fine actors, or even Jeanne Moreau, whom I have never been crazy about. The music by John Barry and the theme song sung by Mama Cass (“The Good Times Are Comin’”) are really quite nice. It’s also nice to see Eric Christmas and Charles Tyner, both of whom would appear in Harold and Maude a year later. The problem is the story itself, which has such an uneven tone. There’s no question that Fraker was a great cinematographer (Games, Rosemary’s Baby, Heaven Can Wait, Baby Boom), but I don’t think he was quite so talented a director. I didn’t find myself caring much about what happened to any of the characters.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #59: Second Honeymoon (1937) - dir. Walter Lang

This lightweight comedy stars the perennial pair, Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, as a divorced couple who are still drawn to each other (of course). Lyle Talbot is OK as Young’s new husband, while Claire Trevor is underused as one of Young’s friends, but the really great performance here belongs to Stuart Erwin as Power’s valet. The movie’s worth sitting through for Erwin and his amusing lines. He makes for a nice pair with chatty Marjorie Weaver.

365 Day Movie Challenge (2014) - #32: Gambit (1966) - dir. Ronald Neame

This caper comedy came out the same year that William Wyler’s similarly-themed How to Steal a Million did; sadly, Gambit’s talented leads do not have the chemistry that Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole had. While I adore both Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine, there is close to zero electricity between them. There are a lot of gorgeous costumes by Jean Louis, though, and Herbert Lom is fun (as always) as the mark.