Another solid and touching effort by Sofia Coppola. Does it equal Lost in Translation? Probably not, but it is a more mature work.
Personally, I think Rashida Jones is underrated while Bill Murray is overrated (but much better in his latter years than in his youth). Regardless, the chemistry was good between the two leads. The plot gets a bit too implausible in the second half but it circles back and finishes strongly. Some minor characters were annoying and one, the self-absorbed mother of a young child, should have ended up on the cutting floor. Thankfully, there are many nice moments with just Jones and Murray. Oh, and it's set in New York City. These are more than enough reasons to catch "On the Rocks". Merely 96 minutes in length, the return on investment for each minute spent on this funny, emotional film is very good indeed.
"Maybe there's lots of things you haven't seen", says Lucille Ball's character to Louis Hayward's a mere five minutes into "Dance, Girl, Dance". Imagine how saucy and shocking this line would have been in 1940! Ball delivers it with an artless directness, a harbinger of the many role reversals in this gem of a film from the most prolific female director in Hollywood: Dorothy Arzner. Three years later, she directed her last film and walked away from Hollywood on her own terms. Nearly 80 years have passed and apparently no female director in Hollywood has equalled her output. [Insert social commentary here.]
Thanks to The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of Ms. Arzner's (as her ex-pupil Francis Ford Coppola refers to her), we can enjoy one of her best films. Ball definitely steals the show from Maureen O'Hara, who plays the straight-laced role of a rather uncompromising young woman who just wants to dance. The fates of the two women are intertwined, spanning men and money, and things in between. They have a complex, multi-faceted relationship that could very well resonate with two people who are best friends or even sisters. Laughs are aplenty but not at the expense of plot or characterization. Despite the passage of time, this is an enjoyable film that gives us a view into a not-so-distant past.
"Maybe," is the reply given by Hayward's character to Ball's baiting line, "Maybe there's lots of things you haven't seen". That would be a definite yes for me, including the other films of Dorothy Arzner. We get an introduction to this remarkable trailblazer, who wanted to be referred to only as a "director" (no qualifiers required), in the supplements including an interview with Coppola. I wonder if his daughter, Sofia, recognizes Arzner as her directorial grandmother. What is most remarkable is how none of the female characters are weak or won't speak their minds as a matter of course. You just didn't see that back in the day, or even in some films of today.
Not as good as Death on the Nile--Peter Ustinov's first appearance as Hercule Poirot--but another stellar cast with mostly very good performances, witty lines, and high production values make this worth your while if you are an Agatha Christie fan. The first two acts were much stronger than the third act, which was a bit too tidy and too far-fetched, even for the genre. Peter Ustinov is just as fun to watch in his second outing as Poirot, but the the real reason to watch this is to see the sparks fly between Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith. Honorable mentions go to Roddy McDowall and Jane Birkin. Last but not least, Cole Porter's music elevates the soundtrack.
Set in the early 1990s, How to Build a Girl's clever dialog is reminiscent of 1995's Clueless, except that the privileged Beverly Hills, California kids have transmogrified into working-class Wolverhampton, England ones. It might seem fictional but it's nearly biographical. The cast is terrific and the family scenes are outstanding. The God Wall is a bit of a Who's Who of both sets of the real-life characters and of the actors who play them. It's a fun romp through the '90s via the lens of a bright, teen-aged girl who is building the foundation of who she will be as an adult. Most of all, the film succeeds in making that romp equally enjoyable even if you've now got teenagers of your own. Alfie Allen's character declares, "Say one true thing." This film about a teen-aged girl was written by Caitlin Moran and directed by Coky Giedroyc, both of whom were once teen-aged girls themselves. So if the character of Johanna rings truer than, say, 99.99% of the female characters we see on film, then it's because she is a "one true thing".
1978's Death on the Nile is an old-fashioned who-dunnit. The cast is stellar, with Peter Ustinov's first turn as Hercule Poirot. The production values are high and the dialog does not feel too dated. It's well-paced, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable. Those who have not read the book may be in for a little suprise when the mystery is solved.
The Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber contains both De Sica's original 89-minute version and the butchered 72-minute version that was released in the US. De Sica purists should probably stay away from either version. As a fan of his earlier work, I couldn't resist. I was rewarded by a time capsule view of Rome's Stazione Termini and a sufficiently tortured performance by Montgomery Clift. Sadly, Jennifer Jones' acting has not aged well, or maybe it's because her character is even more old-fashioned than Clift's. And her lines: did people really talk that way? It's a melodrama but lordy! The lines are quaint at best, but it's the plot that just doesn't hold up. The lovers' dilemma is quite laughable after almost 70 years. Technically, most of the scenes were shot in the train station in Rome with real people all around so it was not an easy task.
If you must see this film, invest the extra 17 minutes and opt for the original version. The 72-minute version cuts out foundational elements of the first 30 minutes, rendering some events in the film (such as the improbable coincidence of her nephew appearing in the station randomly) just utterly confusing. I think the last scene is worth the extra 17 minutes. Along with some poignant scenes and a generous allowance for the era, the conclusion helped the emotional impact score quite a bit.
The pre-CGI effects may look dated but still impressive. Practical effects are more challenging in many regards, which might make this (and the special features on Blu-ray) interesting and educational for students of film making.
It's a cerebral take on alien invasion wrapped in an erotic shell. Not everyone's cup of tea, but worth a look. Bonus: Patrick Stewart shines in a smaller role, just two years before Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought the entire cast worked well together and there's definitely a vision from director Tobe Hooper and the rest of the crew.
"You know, there's no sense in struggling against a thing when it's got you. It's got you, and that's all there is to it. It's got you."
My Man Godfrey hooks you from the very first scene and just reels you in. There's really no sense struggling against its charms.
This screwball comedy evokes Bringing Up Baby (1938) and It Happened One Night (1934), but is its own brilliant masterpiece.
Almost a century later, the acting holds up. As it turned out, this was the first film that was nominated in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards. Carole Lombard and ex-husband William Powell have electrifying chemistry (the dishwashing scene is a personal favorite). In fact, when Powell got the role, he insisted that only Lombard could play Irene to his Godfrey. The rest of the cast supported the leads wonderfully such that you could (and should) watch the same scene multiple times and find something new. The script is extremely witty and breath-takingly breezy, and delivered in that fast clipped manner of the times. William Powell delivers his lines more slowly and more naturally sounding to our modern ears and, perhaps because of that, his acting feels more modern.
Gregory La Cava received his first of two consecutive Oscar nomination for directing with My Man Godfrey. His film is set during the Depression and is a light social critique on class. Judged against its contemporaries with a modern lens, I think it's perfection.
The only mystery is how it did not win the Oscar for any of the actors.
In 1970, Husbands must have been an unfamiliar journey. To describe this film as groundbreaking and unique would not have been an exaggeration. And it holds up after half a century. The trigger for the emotional crisis would resurface thirteen years later in The Big Chill.
In the film, Ben Gazzara's character, Harry says to his two best friends: “Apart from sex, which my wife is very good at, I like you guys better.” And that's the theme of Husbands, but how it is explored is the product of the genius of John Cassavetes and his collaborators, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. Using their own money and shooting over a two-year period, the three actors bonded over the experience.
Underappreciated in its time, Husbands has been made available by the Criterion Collection. The Blu-ray release in 2020 includes the three actors' appearance on The Dick Cavett Show (shot on September 21, 1970). The words of Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara during the film's release would better approximate the film viewing experience than anything I could write about Husbands.
"Can you recognize the difference between real sentiment and sentimentality?
...I made a picture that doesn't have any sentimentality in it but has a great deal of feeling in it. It has the kind of emotions that we've all experienced but we really don't see on the screen. The kind of emotions that kinda get lost because they're no longer contrived in our film. They're genuine. The like, hope, irritation, frustration, anger, friendship, love, bewilderment, confusion--they're all there." - Peter Falk.
"It is a picture about, it is a picture, and the first picture made, from my point, that shows male love in, in the way it is, in life. The male affection, the male uh...what some guy, some intellectual wrote a book called Men in Groups. It shows that without intellectualizing, or without, without preaching. It shows it on the most tender, beautiful level of any film ever made." - Ben Gazzara