"Broadway Melody" (MGM, 1929)
"Dive Bomber" (Warner Brothers, 1943)
The dashing Errol Flynn returns to the sky in this earnest wartime medical drama about the American effort to overcome pilot fatigue and the persistent problem of blackouts caused during high-altitude dives. The script was written by aviator-cum-screenwriter Frank Wead (himself later the subject of a John Ford movie ) and endeavors to dramatize the unglamorous world of military medicine. Director Michael Curtiz's decision to have Flynn play the lead was a stroke of genius: it's hard to imaging someone less cute commanding our attention for the full hour and a half, and he is quite charming. Ralph Bellamy plays the gruff older researcher who Flynn collaborates with; Fred Macmurray plays a seasoned pilot who can't stand the sight of the pencil-pushing doctors, but learns to respect their methods when they start o get results. (Macmurray's performance is pretty funny, especially in restaurant scenes, etc., with lots of people for him to navigate through -- he's all bustle and self-conciousness, visibly Acting all the time, and amusingly unrelaxed... quite a contrast to the easygoing Flynn!) This flick might not be for everyone; back in WWII the home crowd apparently were eager for anything that showed the war being won. The shots of the massive American naval air force are pretty impressive (and historically fascinating: they still had prop engines and even bi-planes at the time!), but the medical drama is kind of abstract. I enjoyed it, though my wife kept falling asleep.
"Lovely And Amazing" (Lion's Gate, 2002)
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener doesn't
"The Dawn Patrol" (Warner Brothers, 1938)
An outstanding -- and rather bleak -- war movie, featuring Errol Flynn and David Niven as two dashing but harrowed, hard-drinking WWI fighter pilots, whose front-line unit is a constant revolving door of fresh-faced "replacements," new cadets who lack the basic skills to keep them alive for even a day or two, against the seasoned German pilots based only miles away. Basil Rathbone plays the British base's high-strung commanding officer, who feels every death as a personal blow -- following heartless orders, he sends boy after boy to an inevitable death. The tables turn when his promotion comes in, elevating the hotheaded and resentful Flynn to his position as commander, and Flynn's grief takes on an added dimension, as he becomes the one responsible for issuing the orders that transform eager young men into mere cannon fodder. The film is a typical interwar mix of pacifist-tinged pessimism and old-world chivalry: the men are gallant and brave, but resentful of the higher-ups who created and orchestrate the wars they have to fight in. The script is fascinating, with the action of the first half taking place entirely on the base. Rather than see the aerial combat, we see the psychological after-effects of the heavy personnel losses. When we do see combat, it is deflationary, either a framework for tragedy or a curse disguised as a giddy triumph. It's also well presented: the feel of the ungainly, canvas-clad prop planes that men went to war in is made palpable, as the ricketty machines bounce along the runway and sputter to life in the skies. A very good film, definitely worth watching.
"Operation Petticoat" (Warner Brothers, 1959)
A hilarious Cary Grant comedy that works on a variety of levels. Grant plays the beleagured captain of a Navy submarine that gets sandbagged at the raid on Pearl Harbor, hit so badly that the military brass want to want to turn it into scrap metal before it ever has a chance to see combat. He pleads with his commanding officer for a chance to patch the sub up and get it back into the war... They agree, but the task seems impossible, given that no supplies are forthcoming, as the United States scrambles to respond to the Japanese attack. Enter Tony Curtis, in one of his choicest comedic roles, playing the effete and newly-assigned Lt. Nick Holden, a shameless scam artist who steals everything that isn't nailed down in order to fill the ship's want list. But the real trouble starts when the boat is forced to take on a gaggle of (gasp!) women onboard, causing great confusion and consternation among the all-male crew. The script is zippy and full of great sexual entendres, dealing both with the genial sexism towards the wimmin, and an unexplicit -- but very blatant -- streak of gay humor. It's a genuinely funny movie, both for the intentional laughs, and for the semi-unintentional ones that modern audiences will enjoy, looking back at late-'Fifties America.
"The Good Girl" (20th Century Fox, 2002)
This cotton-candy-ish film gets a big rise while it's underway, but vanishes like a wisp the moment it's over. I thought that Jennifer Aniston, playing a white trash gal trapped in her numbingly shabby small-town life, did a good job breaking away from her well-known role as Rachael, on TV's Friends. I also enjoyed her supporting cast as well, particularly John C. Reilly as her clueless but well-meaning stoner husband, and I got all wrapped up in knots as the plot got ickier and more uncomfortable. But the resolution was skillful and nuanced only by Hollywood's standards, and the emotional coil-up dissipates almost instantaneously. Even while the film gives a glimpse into middle America which is pretty close to the mark, it's also condescending and in many regards heartless. I suppose that's the point: Aniston's is an antiheroic role, and the film gains points by creating a new set of easy answers that run counter to the same-old movie cliches, but which have the same general impact on its audience. This was OK, but not great.
"The Great McGinty" (Universal, 1940)
After writing several sucessful Hollywood scripts, hotshot Preston Sturges took his first crack at directing, in this crisp, typically cynical, intelligent 1940 debut. The Great McGinty is one Dan McGinty, a down-and-out, yet tough-as-nails tramp who finds opportunity handed to him on a silver platter when a the boss of a big political machine sees McGinty's potential, and taps him to be one of his many henchmen in a statewide graft ring. Affable, savvy, and ruthlessly ambitious, McGinty rises to the top, eventually riding into the governor's office on a hypocritically-fashioned "reform" ticket. Naturally, a woman softens him up, and brings his downfall. As usual, it's difficult not to compare Sturges with the equally populist director, Frank Capra, especially as the plot of this film closely mirrors that of Capra's Meet John Joe, and other Capra films. How do they stack up? Well, Sturges's story is in certain regards darker, in others less harrowing. His bum-made-reformed-conman starts way more corrupt, and never really softenss to the degree a Capra hero would... He finds his moral center, but not his actual salvation, and the film doesn't have what you'd exactly call a "happy ending," at least not for the hero himself. Other elements are similar, though, particularly in the skillful use of supporting character actors. Particularly appealling here are Akim Tamiroff as the political boss and William Demarest as the stooge who first recruits McGinty. Brian Donlevy, as McGinty, is adequate, but hardly as appealing as some of the actors Sturges would work with later on. Still, a nice example of the Sturges formula at work.
NOTE: Actually, I think I'm over my crush (from yesterday) on Sanoe Lake. I know, I know... that was quick, it was only yesterday... but I'll admit I'm fickle, and fame is fleeting. Still, being placed on near-equal footing with Liv Tyler, if only briefly, is still nothing to sneeze at...
"Blue Crush" (Universal, 2002)
Just think: yesterday my "list" (of the people my wife will theoretically allow me to sleep with...) only had one name on it. (Liv Tyler, of course. Duh. ) But today I had to add another candidate, uber-hottie, surfer-model Sanoe Lake, who has one of the supporting roles in this sporty-teen surf flick. Sure, Sanoe doesn't actually do that much wave riding in this film, but as a cool-looking beach bum who stands around smiling and being supportive of her friend the heroine, played by Kate Bosworth, she definitely rocks my world. Seriously, though, this was a pretty fun film -- a sports saga that takes place on Oahu's treacherous North Shore, and involves a local gal who wants to help put female surfing on the map, despite the taunts of her macho male colleagues. Michelle Rodriguez -- who had a similar role in the less-fluffy boxing movie, Girl Fight -- is also on hand to cheer Bosworth on, as is some clean-cut himbo who plays her newfound, earnest young beau. I gotta say, the plots and directing on these new teen-triumph movies -- "Bring It On," etc. -- has gotten so much better in recent years... they're actually worth watching! And this film is a fine example of that trend. It's a thoroughly entertaining look at the booming surfer subculture, with some awesome cinematography and a decent, well-paced story. Plus, them gals are hella cute. A lot better than I expected it to be, and certainly worth checking out, especially if you're in the mood for something light.
"Last Orders" (Columbia Tristar, 2002)
A British Big Chill, with Michael Caine as the recently departed Jack Dodge, an average sort of fellow, with average sorts of failings -- he's distant from his wife and kids, but close to his drinking mates, and, sadly, about to die. Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings and Ray Winstone play Jack's family and friends who remember him as they fulfill as his last wish -- to have his ashes scattered out on the English seaside. This intelligent tearjerker unfolds in reverse, as layers of memory, conflict and regret gradually unfold, showing how Jack's character held friendships together, and pushed them apart. But this isn't exactly an It's A Wonderful Life type story -- the world can get along just fine without Jack Dodge -- and will -- it's just that he helped put a little life into it as well. If you get onto this film's wavelength, it'll get to you. The casting, by the way, is superior, particularly in the choices of J.J. Field as the young Michael Caine, and David Hemmings's son, Nolan, playing him as a youngster.
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