2013 Mid-Year Movie Round Up

So, half the year gone already, past the longest day now and as we all know from Game of Thrones, Winter Is Coming. At least we had a nice summer - I enjoyed that day. Good job I didn't entirely waste the rest of the year, as I managed to watch a few films I didn't have time to review in earnest. Here's a quick rundown.

In Monkey Business (Howard Hawks, 1952), Cary Grant plays an absent-minded scientist working on a formula for eternal youth, only to find one of his chimp subjects has discovered the formula first. Hijinks ensue. Hawks himself was disappointed that this didn't turn out as funny as it could have been, and it's true that it is amusing throughout, rather than laugh-out-loud. But it's still a pretty good screwball, with some good moments and a chimp making funny faces. Notably, Marilyn Monroe's curves get an early outing on her road to sex symbol status, but, not to be upstaged, Ginger Rogers does a great trick of balancing a drink on her head whilst lying down and standing up again, all without spilling a drop. Now that's sexy. 


The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940) sees two shop colleagues constantly getting on each others nerves, little realizing that they are actually each other's cherished anonymous pen-palOften billed as a romantic comedy, this is more of a romantic dramedy, or romantic serio-comedy, or something like that, as it has a spiky, unsentimental undercurrent as it deals with the characters' insecurities, flaws and disappointments. And there's a slightly mean element as Margaret Sullivan's Clara gets put through the emotional wringer more than James Stewart's Alfred, as he finds out the truth well before her. It's this sort of nuanced subtext that gives it a bit more heft, with Stewart and Sullivan excelling as the romantic leads, although it's more of an ensemble piece with nice turns from the supporting cast. See it before Hollywood does an inferior remake. Oh, wait - they already did with the lamentable You've Got Mail.

First in my 'Big' reviews is The Big Easy (Jim McBride,1987). Remember Dennis Quaid? Remember Ellen Barkin? Ever wonder why they were famous? Here's the reason. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill cop thriller as they team up to investigate police corruption in New Orleans, but they make a great, sexy screen couple and both of them have great smiles. I like smiles.


Shadows & Fog. Told you.
Second 'Big' film is The Big Combo (Joseph Lewis, 1955), a pretty solid noir, with crisp B&W photography (great final image), some snappy dialogue and plenty of shadows and fog. The plot is a bit ho-hum, but Richard Conte puts in a strong turn as the quietly spoken villain of the piece, whilst Lee Van Cleef turns up in an early role. The good guys were a bit insipid, though - if you've seen spoof TV series Police Squad!, you'll appreciate it how well it lampooned cops like those in The Big Combo.

Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) was Carpenter's low-budget science-fiction debut film, an extended student project which aimed to satirize the grand themes of 2001: A Space Odysseyas a small crew on a 20-year mission in space talk shit and contemplate the universe. Without this, we probably wouldn't have got sci-fi classic The Thing (which Carpenter went on to direct), or Alien (inspired by the 'beach-ball with claws' sequence, which Carpenter's co-writer Dan O'Bannon reworked from comedy to horror) or TV's Red Dwarf (inspired by the basic set-up), so I suppose we should be grateful. But even cutting it some slack for being a debut student feature, it ccmes across as a hodge-podge of half-baked satirical ideas and had-to-be-there jokes. Students? Bag o'Shite. It's not very good.

Grrrr! Who can I hit now?
Unknown (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2011) sees Liam Neeson play a guy visiting Paris who hits his head during a car crash into a river and awakens to find no one knows who he is, including his wife. I was drifting in and out of consciousness myself whilst watching this (because I was tired, not because I'd hit my head during a car crash into a river), but I think I kept up to speed with it okay and it has a nifty enough central conceit, even if it the explanation all seems a terribly complicated way to go about things. But it's perfectly watchable, with Neeson alternately growling at and hitting people in acceptable enough fashion. No real need to buy this as it's on TV every single night if you look around for it.

Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) is a striking-looking and darkly funny depiction of a dysfunctional, dystopian 1984-ish society obsessed with bureaucratic paperwork. If you would like to read my full review of Brazil, please complete and sign form 27b/6 in triplicate and forward to me along with your bank details so you can be billed for my time and effort in sending you the review. I'm a bit of a stickler for paperwork, so upon receipt of the review you will also need to confirm that by contacting the relevant office ASAP.


"You should have agreed to be in the
Back to The Future sequels"
River's Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986) is an edgy, rather downbeat teen drama, which plays out like a darker version of Stand By Me, when a teenager murders his girlfriend and invites his apathetic friends (including a young Keanu Reeves) round to see the body. Crispin Glover's twitchy performance is the standout, with good support from Dennis Hopper, and the fact that it was inspired by true events makes it an uneasy commentary about the morals and conscience of disaffected youth. 


Younger readers might be surprised to learn that Eddie Murphy was once considered funny, due to star-making performances like the one in the entertaining action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop (Martin Brest, 1984). With good support from John Ashton, Judge Reinhold and that catchy doo-doo-do-do-do-do-dooo theme tune (you're humming it now, aren't you?), this is solid banana-in-the-tailpipe 80s fare. If you don't like it geddafuckouttahere.

Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder, 1950) is a bona-fide classic, widely regarded as one of the greatest films about Hollywood and the movie industry. Focusing on the uneasy relationship between hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden, in the role which shot him to stardom) and faded silent movie legend Norma Desmond (faded silent move legend Gloria Swanson, in a role which returned her to stardom, albeit briefly), it's a blackly comic and ghoulish tale, narrated by a dead man and cruelly skewering the fickleness of fame and celebrity in showbiz. After seeing the filmMGM studio head Louis B. Mayer was so incensed he screamed at Wilder that he should be tarred, feathered and horse-whipped for bringing the profession into such disrepute. "Fuck you", replied Wilder smoothly. And that way with words, folks, is why he is considered one of the all time great writer-directors. It's a great film, and its refreshing cynicism paved the way for other bitter Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies, such as The Bad and The Beautiful, The Day of the Locust and The Player, whilst the great Mulholland Dr. has obvious parallels in both storyline and title. You can also watch out for real-life cameos from the likes of Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille and Hedda Hopper amongst others, which add insider authenticity to the story.


Okay, that's enough for now. I'm off to batten down the hatches and get out the winter wardrobe. I'll be back in December with another round up.



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