January 8, 2010

Quick Hits

I'm not much of a movie reviewer, but here are some quick bits on movies I've seen recently (I guess *minor* spoiler warning for all, but I don't really spoil much):

Mystery Street: B+
More Jan Sterling, please! Also, John Alton's cinematography is fab -- the first ten minutes are Noir-licious (will I do screengrabs later? Mebbe...) Montalban is sexy and competent in his role. Elsa Lanchaster is the best thing about the movie after Sterling's character bites it. The wife of the guy accused of murder is annoying. Basically, a nice noir/CSI mystery combo.

Nora Prentiss: B+/A-
Ann Sheridan is fab (why am I just now discovery her?). Twisted, weird Romance-Noir. A phantasma-parable about lust, love, adultery, sin -- but it doesn't turn the adulterous love into something wholly evil, which manages to give the thing a perverse, romantic beauty. A dark and strange noir.

Our Very Own: B
An adorable 12-year-old Natalie Wood (and when she turns annoying, the film cleverly acknowledges it and pokes fun). Ann Blyth is very good in a nice girl/tortured youth role and Ann Dvorak playing it trashy, desperate, and decent as Blyth's biological mother is awesome. Sometimes there's too much "typical American family" stuff so it slows the movie down, but the family feels real and Joan Evans is also great as Blyth's slightly younger and gloriously bitchy sister -- believable sibling rivalry and sisterly relationship. I'm not ashamed to say I got a few lumps in the throat during this one. I am a sap.

Alfred the Great: B+ (Did The Siren recommend this one? Thanks, Siren!)
Nice period piece, realistic but still colorfully visual. David Hemming and Michael York were both very good. The love story/Queen Aelhswith plot was the weak spot. Her motivations were a little WTF and the resolution abrupt. Everything else was good -- good battle sequences too! Bonus: Ian McKellen! How... does he act... so well?

The Lodger: B+
Awesome atmosphere -- the fog, the shadows of London -- very creepy. Laird Cregar is so tortured and twisted and sad and horrible, his performance makes the movie. I felt George Sanders was wasted a little. The climax, when the music goes out and it's just quiet was amazing -- very effective.

The Young Victoria: C+/B-
I really wanted to love this film... too high expectations? This new movie had an inferior script with no overarching theme, whereas the "Victoria and Albert" BBC TV movie from a few years ago was superior and I kept comparing the two... which is a shame because the acting and sets were all better in this movie than the TV mini. Goes to show, the script makes all the difference! Movie was ultimately too choppy and what was it about??? Felt like the filmmakers didn't know either and the whole thing was a little muddled. Didn't end exactly, just kinda puttered out.

Women's Prison: B+ (for what it was: a women-in-prison exploitation-type flick)
Ida Lupino was a little over the top with the sadistic bitch prison warden stuff, but it was fun. Phyllis Thaxter's poor innocent was annoying -- her story could have been dumped, no prob. The real standouts were Audrey Totter and Jan Sterling -- awesome! Sterling talking "normal" and not floozy-Brooklyn like in "Caged." Totter was vulnerable, sexy, tough -- great.

District 9: B
Doesn't hold up to too much thought or scrutiny, but compelling characters and premise make it worthwhile. Also: Gross as hell!

Ponyo: A-
A total WTF?! -- but in a good way. Beautiful Miyazaki visual poetry, as always. I still have no idea what it was about, of course, but it was worth it just for the images. Some of the score reminded me of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" -- hella cool.

Zeigfeld Follies: ?
I don't even know how to grade this insane weirdfest of beauty, movement, song, and shtick. The segments were hit-or-miss, but some were so wonderful it elevated the movie. In particular: The "Limehouse Blues" number, Lena Horne's song, the final Kathryn Grayson song, the Astaire/Kelly number, also Esther Williams' underwater ballet -- all were highlights. The Judy Garland number was also good, though even I, Miss Queen of the retro culture, didn't get all the in-jokes. The Keenan Wynn and Victor Moore bits went on WAY too long. Fanny Brice was good, but not great. And of course, I always enjoy a bit of Red Skelton.

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