Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Oh, the things you see when you nostalgically watch Disney Channel during Halloween. (And I do, every year, because I love the Halloweentown trilogy. No, there was no fourth movie, that's a common misconception.) I imagine this would be cute for kids under seven or so. I have no real criticisms, because it's clearly for little kids. Here's what amused me: this is based on the second in a series of kid's books. The first was made into a movie in 2008. They're about a kid who sees two ghosts, a brother and sister, who are trying to find the ghosts of their parents. What I found hilarious is that there is exactly one cast member from the first movie in this one: Disney Channel's Madison Pettis, the precocious little girl from the short-lived Cory in the House. This movie is supposed to take place a year later, and she plays the unchanging sister ghost, except in reality she's 16 now and not 10. I found that kind of hilarious. I really hope they do another one of these that takes place a year later when she's 30, but still pretending to be a 10 year-old, because I find stupid things funny. Anyway, it's harmlessly disposable but it's for little kids. For me it's like *1/2. Makes good use of Bella Thorne in miniskirts.

I know this was incredibly acclaimed, but I found it tedious, dull, overly worshipful of its subject (boxer James J. Braddock), and sappy. This is one of those biopics where you know it's going to end in triumph, so none of the struggles really mean anything. There's no conflict, because it's just moist-eyed reverence. It just comes out of a kit that you plug different actors and period details into. The actors all seem to be enjoying their cartoon accents, though. **

Melodramatic but oddly riveting story about Native Americans in the days before World War I. The film--based on a Zane Grey novel--sees the history of our continent as a series of conquests. It's a mix of tones. On the one hand, the message often comes across that Native Americans need to assimilate and accept that their ways are over. On the other hand, the Native American characters here are dignified and sacrifice much, while most of the representatives of the US government are shown as greedy and crooked or, at best, inefficient. But while there is definite respect there, it's tempered by the time period, so there is this white privilege that permeates throughout, where all of the white characters are more advanced and civilized, and none of the Native Americans speak in grammatical English and most are played by white actors like star Richard Dix. It's a lot to think about. It's not perfect, but it's very well made and engrossing, and I'll go ****.

Excellent musical remake of The Philadelphia Story starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. This is another "indicative of its time" movies, because I do cringe a bit at some of the sentiment in movies like this that seem to argue that headstrong women just need to be taken down a peg and then they'll realize they're happy. (Something I didn't mention last week in my review of the execrable Leap Year was just how much that movie seemed to be about just taking Amy Adams down a peg or three--Matthew Goode insults her a lot, and she falls in love with him--because women can only be happy in traditional roles. Maybe there was some kind of satire intended that everyone involved didn't bother selling?) But it's well-acted, it looks fantastic, and it took me out of my anxiety for a couple of hours the other afternoon. Louis Armstrong (playing himself) is worth the price of admission alone. ****

SADIE McKEE (1934)
Joan Crawford is beautiful and strong in this vehicle. Not a great film, but she's very good in it. I see this referred to as a pre-Code movie; the Hays Code may not have been in fullest effect, but it's not exactly frank, either. You can see some of the things they had to do, some of the things they can't get away with saying. It's soapy, but I liked the theme running through of it of personal responsibility and trying to make amends for mistakes. I also liked seeing a movie this old that treated alcoholism (although, true to the Code, they never use the actual word) as a serious disease rather than simply a comic device. Some of the stuff Crawford's character goes through is hard to take, and a lot of her happiness has to be implied for other code reasons, but Crawford is just so damn good. ***

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