DVDs have now been around long enough that they’re doing second edition releases. My first two viewings this month were of favorites I already owned, done to see if I wanted to trade up to new editions.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — The original DVD has one of the few commentaries director John Hughes has done, and it was interesting enough to keep my attention all the way through (especially when he talks about the difficulty in filming the scene where the car plunges down the ravine). The new edition has new special features (although I’m not clear on exactly what they are) but omitted the commentary. Do they really expect me to get two copies of this film? Was there some reason for not including the commentary track on the new disc? (I’m guessing either the studio didn’t want to pay Hughes or he didn’t want it included for some reason.) I’m sticking with the original in this case, although I do love “where are they now” special features.
The Cutting Edge — This one I did trade up for, buying the new Gold Medal Edition. (It was released to tie in with a new direct-to-video sequel that sounds completely generic and Disney-fied.) The only new feature is a 10-minute retrospective featuring brief interviews with the two leads, but I really like this movie, and it was cheap, and I think my mom will like our old copy.
Less Than Zero — Never read it, never saw it before, only watched it for the way it visually captures the late 80s. Jami Gertz has the best hair of the decade, and Andrew McCarthy is as blank as usual (but as the uncertain observer, it kind of works). Commentors seem to love Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance as a strung-out going nowhere addict, but I found myself feeling sorry for the actor more than anything, given his later real-life issues. I have little tolerance for the “poor useless rich kids” genre, but treated as a time capsule, not too bad. The way it glamorizes drug users before providing a “drugs BAD” message with a sledgehammer is really accurate for the time.
Kate & Leopold — I love Hugh Jackman, and seeing him play an old-fashioned charming gentleman is a dream. It’s a shame that Meg Ryan looks so tense and worn through the whole thing (and her haircut looks like it was done by a weedwhacker), although Breckin Meyer’s fun as her younger brother. Even though I see all of the movie’s flaws as I’m watching, I can’t help swooning.
Bend It Like Beckham — God bless IMDB. Without it, I would have spent half the movie wondering why Keira Knightley’s mother and coach looked so familiar. (Juliet Stevenson was a lead in Truly Madly Deeply, a romantic favorite also starring Alan Rickman, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers was the lead in Velvet Goldmine who wasn’t Christian Bale or Ewan McGregor). With it, I could answer my questions quickly and switch to wondering if Keira’s extreme skinniness actually looked healthy.
It’s a formula film, but an entertaining one, about an Indian girl’s desire to play professional soccer in the face of family disapproval. Well acted, kept my interest, good messages, recognizable characters (even though from another culture and country), happy ending — what more can you want?
Play Misty for Me — We were talking the other day about movies that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of their time and then aged very badly. You know, the ones you watch years later and wonder “why was everyone talking about that?” Our list included The Graduate, Shampoo, Fatal Attraction, and this one.
Clint Eastwood’s a disc jockey and Jessica Walter is his stalker. Only they didn’t call it that then. Now, after decades of stalker movies, the chills aren’t so much. (My opinion may be affected by watching this via AMC, which has gone radically downhill from what it once was. If there were truly scary parts, they might have been edited out.)
One of the movie’s messages is that sleeping with someone you don’t know may be a bad idea, because they might be crazy and try to kill you. Watching this as a member of the post-AIDS generation, I found myself responding “well, duh”. The acting is over the top at times, and I found myself fascinated by the women’s shag/mullet haircuts.
Seven Chances — One of my favorite Buster Keaton films, this was later remade with Chris O’Donnell as The Bachelor. It works much better in the original, when marriage meant so much more legally and culturally. Buster finds out at the last minute that he will inherit $7 million dollars if he’s married by 7 PM that day. He needs the money to save his partner and company from ruin due to some unspecified bad choices.
This movie’s only an hour, and the last fifteen minutes or so are simply incredible. It’s perhaps best known for its scene of him racing downhill surrounded by rocks and boulders that cascade upon him, but before that, once his plight is made public, thousands of women show up wearing wedding veils and begin chasing him. There are some incredible scenes where they pour out into the street in a never-ending wave. They run through a football game, leaving collapsed players in their wake. Like locusts, they destroy a cornfield, then they commandeer streetcars and construction machinery, throwing the male operators out on their butts. The film shows just how fast Buster is, too, with him taking off in a sprint whenever the women notice him. Lots of amazing images and funny, too.
High Society — The musical remake of The Philadelphia Story that was Grace Kelly’s last movie and the first appearance together of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. A classic, mostly due to the Cole Porter score.
The DVD has a few forgettable extras and a short documentary narrated by Celeste Holm. Unfortunately, due to age, her voice has weakened and I found it hard to hear and follow, although she’s still as lovely as she is in the film.
Good Night, and Good Luck — I fully support the message of the movie, but I found it disappointing. Since I already agreed with its viewpoint, I found my attention wandering. The performances were great, and it was all very well done, but the recreation of the era, while impressive, didn’t keep me involved through the whole thing.
13 Going on 30 — This, on the other hand, was cuter than I thought it would be. I don’t like Jennifer Garner’s work, and I think she looks unhealthy most of the time, but this was a lot of fun, with an odd little twist to the ending.
Fahrenheit 451 — Rather quaint, these days, with the heavy-handed symbolism of burning books and the radical idea of people being brainwashed and manipulated through large wall-screen televisions. Still an important reminder of the beauty of literature, though, even if the movie is languidly paced and the lead actor stiff.
Two Weeks Notice — One of the best of its genre, the romantic comedy, due to the talent of the two leads. They play to their types, like old-fashioned movie stars. Hugh Grant is ideal as a slightly dissolute businessman with too much money and not much brain who unthinkingly expects the world to revolve around him.
I especially liked that Sandra Bullock wasn’t the typical heroine, instead having a strong individualistic streak and a focus on helping others and looking at the bigger picture. (It was also refreshing to see her respect and be inspired by her parents, played wonderfully by Robert Klein and Dana Ivey.) With so much personality and charm, this is a throwback to the classic 40s comedies.
Turns out, also, that this was the first film shot in New York City after 2001, and they make wonderful use of the setting and scenery.
Grace of My Heart — Loosely inspired by the life of Carole King, this story of an aspiring singer/songwriter travels from the 50s to the 70s in pop music as her life reflects the changing times. It’s an amazing film with a terrific soundtrack. An impressive group of professionals, including Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, created material that’s faithful to the period yet still original. At the same time, I would think while listening “that sounds like (real-life pop hit)” which helped connect the story to my own memories of the soundtracks of those eras.
And the performances! Illeana Douglas stars; Eric Stoltz and Patsy Kensit work at the Brill Building writing songs with her; John Turturro is her faithful boss (a Phil Spector/Don Kirshner type); and Matt Dillon is a Brian Wilson stand-in. It had me talking back to the TV frequently (“you know this isn’t going to end well! don’t go out with him!”) because I got so involved and cared for these characters. It helped that KC is a walking musical encyclopedia, so every so often we’d pause and he’d tell me about the real-life equivalents of what we’d seen or similar stories that the scenes might have been influenced by.
It’s also a subtly feminist film. We wound up talking about how a shallow viewing might cause the observer to think “she doesn’t do enough to take control of her life; things just happen to her” but it’s an honest portrayal of the realistic choices women had and have to make. There’s a point at which she’s being encouraged to leave her drug-using husband when he flakes out, and she makes a small speech about what “til death do we part” means to her. She’s trying to find her own strength in opposition to a culture and background that want to force her into predefined roles. And yes, it’s about finding her own voice.
There are many layers to this film with a lot going on. This time, on my third or fourth viewing, I only just realized that the girl about whom she writes a “Love Child”-like song about unwed pregnancy later becomes the nanny for her child. This is a truely modern musical; instead of the characters stopping and breaking into song, the songs are woven realistically into the story, yet they still reflect the inner thoughts of the characters. And I think that’s a good one on which to end for this month.