Love, deceit, celebrity, death, what’s it matter as long as the picture is great?
The 1950s reign supreme this week,
Four Christmases (2008, Seth Gordon, Germany/United States Of America) **
About what you would expect from a holiday themed family comedy. It was funny in some parts, but overall most of it fell flat and felt forced. Reese Witherspoon was still looking good though, but Vince Vaughn is getting fat man, really fat, dude has a big ole gut on him now. Anyways, I went with a girl and she seemed to enjoy it, so at least there was that.
Roman Holiday (1953, William Wyler, United States Of America) ***
I really liked the non-Hollywood ending. It doesn’t matter if they may have feelings for each other, they can’t be together and that’s why he walks away alone. I also liked how Princess Anna yearned to be able to do things like wash clothes, cook dinner, vacuum, etc.. Things that in today’s culture are viewed as almost a death sentence for a woman being free. The acting was also choice throughout, and Audrey Hepburn is gorgeous. But, for as much as I liked about it, this was a very flawed movie. There were numerous bad cuts, but most of all there was never any real chemistry between Gregory Peck and Miss Hepburn, and that’s kind of essential in a love story.
An American In Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli, United States Of America) ***
I’m beginning to notice a trend with Gene Kelly, he likes to knock his movies back a few steps with completely unnecessary numbers right before the big climax. Singin’ In The Rain was a darn near perfect movie ruined by the completely unnecessary Broadway show tunes number at the end. An American In Paris was headed towards great movie territory, because just like Singin’ In The Rain it was getting the musical theme right. All the song and dance numbers flowed naturally from the story, the singers and dancers were superb, and the story was light, but effective. Then came the ending with the exceedingly long, completely unnecessary and tonally wrong last dance number that just ruined the ending. I realize a lot of people loved the end ballet number, but I felt it was tacked on and really had no place within the movie An American In Paris was trying to be. Plus, Nina Foch’s character is just forgotten in the final moments, thrown to the side with no explanation when the story no longer has any use for her. An American In Paris could have been great, but it faltered in the end and because of that it ends up a little bit less, but still good.
Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder, United States Of America) ****
Double Indemnity made me a fan of Billy Wilder, but Sunset Blvd. made me think of the man as a genius. This is his masterwork as far as I’m concerned. It is masterfully crafted from start to finish. It plays with the concept of a linear story, it uses narration in a perfect and haunting fashion. The performances from William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim are epic. The writing is both witty and snappy, with a hard edge to it while containing immense depth. The plot is tight, concise and it moves along at a brisk pace, never letting up, never allowing a chance for the viewer to breathe. The music is often overlooked, but without it I don’t think the movie would have pulled off its foreboding and thick atmosphere anywhere near as well. There is an attractiveness to the film because of how real it is. Sunset Blvd. doesn’t hold back at all in regards to Hollywood and films in general. It is an industry that will use and abuse you. Today I think it is harder to relate to because of how much money most actors make, but the story is still very relateable because most people realize there will come a day when their chosen profession won’t want them any longer and will toss them to the side for a newer, better model. A tremendous movie, one of my all time favorites and an all time great as well, and a tremendous way to spend a couple of hours immersed in a film.
Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder, United States Of America) ***1/2
There are some moments that just aren’t funny, cutting or ingenious, but they are few and far between. Like all comedies this comes down to personal taste, it’s not raunchy, it’s not overly simple. It is very smart while at the same time being very base and appealing to the lowest denominator in a lot of moments. Most people overlook that because of how stylishly Billy Wilder hides the lower moments and makes you think you are watching something truly high brow when in fact you are just watching a dude tell a hot blond that she just made his pecker all stiff. It does work though, and finely at that. The timing is there between the actors, both the leads and the supporting cast. That leaves us with the best part of the picture, Marilyn Monroe. I read somewhere that she was a size 16 for this movie, and if that’s not a reminder of how Hollywood and the rest of the world at large have lost their minds I don’t know what else is. She was beautiful in Some Like It Hot, with curves in all the right places, and when she walks away and you see her bare back you realize this is a real woman you are watching, not some god awful stick figure. I don’t care about how much trouble she supposedly was on set either, or how much difficulty she had with her lines. What matters is her performance on screen, and it was great to watch. There’s effervescence behind every line, and a sultriness and warmth behind every smile or facial expression. She really does enrapture you and cause you to forget about everyone else in the movie. Great flick, definitely recommended.
This look back at my old reviews started off with some weak sauce. Luckily Billy Wilder and the 1950s soon showed up to set everything right. Sunset Blvd. is the retro movie of the week. I’ll be back next week with five more retro capsule reviews!