The Palm Beach Story (1942, Preston Sturges)

The Palm Beach Story is a narrative. Director Sturges opens with a rapidly cut prologue showing stars Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea getting married, where he inserts clues for what will eventually be the film’s utterly pointless deus ex machina. Sure, Palm Beach runs less than ninety minutes so it’s possible the viewer be sitting around focusing on the prologue’s unanswered questions, but unlikely. Sturges is betting a lot on no one paying too much attention.

The film’s first act has Colbert paying off she and McCrea’s debt, so she then leaves him. She’d been waiting to do it until they were even with the grocer. Besides an awkward scene where she and McCrea get drunk, there’s almost no character development between them. It’s not just with one another–since the second act requires them both to be dishonest, there’s rarely any sincere scenes between their characters and anyone else in the film.

One has to wonder if Sturges intended the deus ex machina to have more importance, since it deals entirely with Colbert and McCrea and he’s spent most of Palm Beach concentrating on the people they meet. Rudy Vallee and Mary Astor eventually show up to provide romantic interests for the married leads, which ought to be funnier but Sturges spends more time with jokes at Sig Arno’s expense.

Astor is fantastic, Vallee is fine, Colbert is too mercenary and McCrea looks lost.

Sturges never finds the right tone for the film. It’s off from that first scene.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Preston Sturges; director of photography, Victor Milner; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Victor Young; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Gerry Jeffers), Joel McCrea (Tom Jeffers), Mary Astor (The Princess Centimillia), Rudy Vallee (J.D. Hackensacker III), Sig Arno (Toto), Robert Dudley (Wienie King), Franklin Pangborn (Manager) and Esther Howard (Wife of Wienie King).


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[Stop Button Favorites] Episode 4 | Batman Returns

[Stop Button Favorites] Episode 4 | Batman Returns

An audio commentary of Tim Burton’s 1992 film, “Batman Returns,” produced by Burton and Denise Di Novi for Warner Bros.

Synced to the Warner Blu-Ray release.

Featuring special guest co-host, Matt Hurwitz!

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The Decalogue: Six (1990, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Six is a mess and it shouldn’t be, because at the center of it director Kieslowski has this phenomenal performance from Grazyna Szapolowska. He opens with her (doing some hippy thing where she “blesses” her food), then moves the story to her stalker, played by Olaf Lubaszenko.

Now, what eventually happens is Janet Leigh comes on to Norman Bates and he tries to kill himself and she realizes her wanton slutty modern woman ways have taken away her chance for godly happiness.

Along the way, there’s some truly amazing acting from Szapolowska and all these missed opportunities in Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski’s script. Half the film goes to Lubaszenko peeping on her (it’d have been more effective, after all the melodramatics, if it had just been this odd stalking movie), then everything else is rushed. Including, unfortunately, when Szapolowska starts stalking him back.

Szapolowska’s performance deserved a far better script.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski; written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Kieslowski; director of photography, Witold Adamek; edited by Ewa Smal; music by Zbigniew Preisner; production designer, Halina Dobrowolska; produced by Ryszard Chutkowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Grazyna Szapolowska (Magda), Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek), Stefania Iwinska (Godmother), Artur Barcis (Young Man), Stanislaw Gawlik (Postman) and Piotr Machalica (Roman).


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A Day at the Races (1937, Sam Wood)

Until the halfway point or so, A Day at the Races moves quite well. Sure, it gets off to a slow start–introducing Chico as sidekick to Maureen O’Sullivan and setting up her problems (her sanitarium is going out of business), which isn’t funny stuff. I think Allan Jones even shows up as her nightclub singing beau before the other Marx Brothers make an appearance. But once they do, Races gets in gear.

There are a series of excellent sequences, all utilizing the Marx Brothers. Whether it’s Harpo doing physical comedy, Groucho and Chico doing a banter bit–with Harpo joining them in another one a few minutes later–Races uses them to wonderful effect. Director Wood even gets in a fine instrument playing number for Harpo and Chico.

And the supporting cast–O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont, Leonard Ceeley, Douglass Dumbrille–is strong. Jones is an exception; his performance is broad, but he’s likable enough.

Until the second half, when the film should be giving him more to do acting-wise and doesn’t, instead giving him a long musical number. That long musical number, which leads to Harpo recruiting the nearby poor black workers into the number, kills Races’s pace. The previous musical interlude, with a lengthy (and gorgeous) ballet sequence, is about all it could handle. Maybe because there was great Marx Brothers comedy immediately following.

After the second musical sequence? Uninspired situation comedy. Races manages a satisfactory recovery in the finish, but it can’t make up the time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Pirosh and Seaton; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by Franz Waxman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Groucho Marx (Dr. Hackenbush), Chico Marx (Tony), Harpo Marx (Stuffy), Allan Jones (Gil), Maureen O’Sullivan (Judy), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Upjohn), Leonard Ceeley (Whitmore), Douglass Dumbrille (Morgan), Esther Muir (‘Flo’), Robert Middlemass (Sheriff), Vivien Fay (Dancer), Ivie Anderson (Vocalist) and Sig Ruman (Dr. Steinberg).


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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller)

Mad Max: Fury Road opens with a voiceover from “star” Tom Hardy (who’s billed before Charlize Theron, but below her; very Towering Inferno) explaining how he’s Mad Max and he’s crazy haunted with all the people he never saved. In many ways, it’s Hardy’s biggest moment in the film and he’s not even on screen for it. It’s an exposition barrage and a needless one; Hardy and his sanity are never important to the film. The sanity stuff is just annoying. One has to wonder how the film’d play without him, because Miller has it structured to do so.

Theron’s the protagonist in the film, helping bad guy Hugh Keays-Byrne’s pregnant young wives–he’s a post-apocalyptic warlord, no other character work is necessary in Fury Road–escape to Dry Land. Sorry, the Green Place. Miller’s also making Fury Road in the post-apocalyptic genre he created, just thirty years after people have been playing in the sandbox. There apparently are no new stories.

Instead, there’s action, lots and lots of action. Usually with vehicles. The impressive stunt work never gets the focus. Since there’s no real connection with the characters; Miller doesn’t have a story, he has excuses for certain action sequences. John Seale shoots them all right (the hopefully intentional Sorcerer homage is cute), but editors Margaret Sixel and Jason Ballantine don’t have any rhythm.

Theron’s really good, even with nothing to do.

Road’s got its moments, but Miller’s never invested in the characters and it shows.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Miller; written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris; director of photography, John Seale; edited by Margaret Sixel and Jason Ballantine; music by Junkie XL; production designer, Colin Gibson; produced by Miller, Doug Mitchell and P.J. Voeten; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tom Hardy (Max Rockatansky), Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa), Nicholas Hoult (Nux), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Immortan Joe), Josh Helman (Silt), Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus), Zoë Kravitz (Toastthe Knowing), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (The Splendid Angharad), Riley Keough (Capable), Abbey Lee (The Dag), Courtney Eaton (Cheedo the Fragile), Megan Gale (The Valkyrie) and Melissa Jaffer (Keeper of the Seeds).


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Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)

In Citizen Kane, director Welles ties everything together–not just the story (he does wrap the narrative visually), but also how the filmmaking relates to the film’s content. Kane’s story can’t be told any other way. That precision–whether it’s in the summary sequences or in how scenes cut together–is absolutely necessary to not just keep the viewer engaged, but to keep them over-engaged. Even with the conclusion, where Welles reveals the film’s “solution” (quote unquote); it doesn’t resolve that mystery in a timely fashion–Welles drags it out to get the viewer thinking, questioning. Welles puts together this perfect film and then asks the viewer to wonder whether or not it was all worth it. Not just his making it, but the viewer’s watching it.

The little moments in the film–Welles gets in these subtle things with melodramatic fireworks going off in the background, whether its Dorothy Comingore’s humanity or Everett Sloane’s wistfulness or “protagonist” William Alland’s frustration–remind the viewer the story’s still about people. And why shouldn’t it be? Most scenes in Kane feature two to three working characters. Sometimes Welles has people in the background, sometimes he doesn’t. The little moments in big scenes–like one between Joseph Cotten and Sloane during a party–are often more devastating than the little scenes.

Welles unforgivingly asks a lot of the viewer. He opens the film with a complex fading sequence to bring the viewer into the world of Kane, then abruptly pulls the film out of itself, into a newsreel. And for almost twenty minutes, Welles barely gives himself any screen time. It’s always such a big deal that first time Welles lets Kane have an audible line in the newsreel.

All that control isn’t to prime the viewer, isn’t to get him or her desperately wondering about Rosebud, all that control is because the film needs it. Kane spans forty-some years in under two hours. Far under two hours if you don’t count the newsreel “first act.” When Welles establishes his character as an older man, an atypical protagonist–Kane’s infinitely sympathetic while never likable, though Welles knows his charm goes a long way in lightening a heavy scene–he does so without hostility. Nowhere in Kane does Welles play for the audience, but he also doesn’t artificially distance them. The opening does, quite literally, guide the viewer into the film.

Kane is an unsentimental film about a sentimental subject and Welles does wonders with that disconnect.

Comingore probably gives the film’s best performance. Welles is amazing and mesmerizing, but so much of the second half has to do with how he plays off her, she’s essential. Of course, there aren’t any merely good performances–even Erskine Sanford, in the closest thing to a comedy relief role, is great. Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris–all fantastic.

And Joseph Cotten as the film’s “good guy?” He’s marvelous.

Impeccable Gregg Toland photography, great Bernard Herrmann music.

500 words aren’t enough.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Orson Welles; written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Robert Wise; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotten (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Ruth Warrick (Emily Monroe Norton Kane), Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), George Coulouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Agnes Moorehead (Mary Kane), Harry Shannon (Jim Kane), Paul Stewart (Raymond), Ray Collins (James W. Gettys), Erskine Sanford (Herbert Carter) and William Alland (Jerry Thompson).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE MY FAVORITE CLASSIC MOVIE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RICK OF CLASSIC FILM AND TV CAFE


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College (1927, James W. Horne)

The best sequence in College is also the longest. Protagonist Buster Keaton, after failing at baseball (he’s a bookworm who needs to get athletic to impress a girl), goes out for track and field. Keaton observes other men succeed at the various events, tries them himself, fails miserably (and comically), keeps trying, presumably assuming he’ll eventually get something right.

And the viewer assumes it too. That sequence, which does eventually have a fantastic payoff, plays with the viewer’s expectations. Its length and thoroughness serves to fully vest the viewer in the film (the sequence is around the halfway point). Keaton’s success is more important to the viewer than it is to Keaton’s protagonist.

College is a little light on plot–after setting up Keaton as unable to afford college without working his way through and showcasing his misadventures at odd jobs, the film drops the subject. Ditto the girl–played by Anne Cornwall–and her problems with her jerk jock boyfriend, Harold Goodwin. The latter comes back into the film for the finale, but the college financing stuff doesn’t.

And Keaton doesn’t really have a story arc. He tries sports to get the girl. Either it’s going to work out or it isn’t. There’s just enough story to get the viewer interested and then Keaton’s attempts (and failures) are funny enough to keep it going. College has about enough story for a short, it just has long form comedic sequences.

The film always moves, always looks great. The finish rocks.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James W. Horne; written by Carl Harbaugh and Bryan Foy; director of photography, Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings; edited by Sherman Kell; produced by Joseph M. Schenck; released by United Artists.

Starring Buster Keaton (Ronald), Anne Cornwall (Mary Haynes), Harold Goodwin (Jeff), Flora Bramley (Mary’s friend), Snitz Edwards (Dean Edwards) and Florence Turner (Ronald’s mother).


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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Joseph Zito)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter never tries to be scary. It tries to be gory… but not too gory. It saves the biggest gore moment for the last, when any number of the other ones throughout the film would’ve given Tom Savini better material. It’s supposed to be gory, but not too gory. It still has to be mainstream.

And The Final Chapter is a desperate attempt to fulfill the mainstream expectations of a Friday the 13th movie. There’s pointless nudity, dumb coeds, scary music, a kid with a horror movie fixation. Except Zito can’t do any of it right. He does best on the exploitation of his female cast, but even that is inept because of his direction. Zito shoots everything in a medium-long shot, straight on so the pan and scan video release won’t miss any of the technically competent, but entirely unimaginative gore.

Worse, Zito has a screenwriter in Barney Cohen who give him okay scary setups. Zito flops on all of them. Occasionally it’ll be something as simple as needing Harry Manfredini’s (admittedly somewhat lame this entry) score over a scene instead of the scenic sound. There’s not a single good thing Zito does in the film.

Except the opening tracking shot tying it to the previous series entry.

Lots of bad acting, but also an almost good one from Crispin Glover and okay ones from Kimberly Beck and Barbara Howard.

One scare out of The Final Chapter shouldn’t have been asking too much.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Zito; screenplay by Barney Cohen, based on a story by Bruce Hidemi Sakow and characters created by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz, Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson; director of photography, João Fernandes; edited by Daniel Loewenthal and Joel Goodman; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Shelton H. Bishop III; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Corey Feldman (Tommy), Kimberly Beck (Trish), Erich Anderson (Rob), Barbara Howard (Sara), Peter Barton (Doug), Lawrence Monoson (Ted), Camilla More (Tina), Crispin Glover (Jimmy Mortimer), Joan Freeman (Mrs. Jarvis), Carey More (Terri), Clyde Hayes (Paul), Judie Aronson (Samantha), Bonnie Hellman (Hitchhiker) with Lisa Freeman (Nurse Robbie Morgan) and Bruce Mahler (Axel).

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