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A Month of Media: June Movies and DVDs
June 26, 2012

Early this month because I’m going to be swamped, and I know I’m not going to have a chance to watch any more films.

Movies

Horrible Bosses (2011) — I wasn’t offended at some point, as I am with a number of modern comedies that feature gross-out scenes, but watching this was a complete waste of time. I don’t feel as though as I gained anything after seeing the movie that I didn’t already know or laugh at after seeing the trailer. I like Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass), but I wish he had better taste in films, since I don’t think he’s done anything yet that’s lived up to his talent.

Ladies They Talk About (1933) — Barbara Stanwyck is a woman in prison in this pre-Code that’s still enjoyable to watch today. She’s a well-dressed distraction for a bank robbery who refuses to squeal on her compatriots, so she goes to jail. Her hard eyes reveal her schemes, even when she’s pretending to be a silly rich woman, although later, her motivations are all over the place.

The characters and situations in the clink are entertaining, although I never believed that Stanwyck’s hard cookie was stupid enough to engage in one of the later plots the gang drags her into. Watch for the moment when, new to prison, she’s warned away from the cigar-smoking woman who “likes to wrestle”. More interesting is her relationship with crusading reformer David Slade (Preston Foster), who’s got a huge crush on her, and the jealousy it creates in another prisoner (Dorothy Burgess). That woman’s mixture of hero worship and revival-style reformation is a potent cocktail of crazy.

Outcast Lady (1934) — Constance Bennett stars as Iris, who can’t be with the man she loves. Although they’re neighbors and from the same background, she’s penniless and her father was a drunkard (as is her brother), which means she’s not good enough for Napier (Herbert Marshall, who’s too old for the role of a struggling young man who does what he father tells him). So Napier (not the stupidest name in the movie, that’s coming up) heads back off to India (they’re all British, you see), and Iris winds up marrying Boy Fenwick (Ralph Forbes), a rich friend of the family who’s loved her from afar all these years. (Yes, that’s the stupidest name. I spent the first third thinking it must be “Boyd” until I saw it written out.)

Then the movie gets strange. On their wedding night, Iris gets an anonymous note accusing Boy of an unspecified horrible crime that he spent time in prison for! Worse yet, it’s true, so instead of living with the guilt of his secret, he jumps out the window! Iris won’t have the real reason for his suicide revealed, for fear her brother’s worshipful idolization of Boy will be shaken, so everyone thinks Boy killed himself because of her. The relationship between the brother (Hugh Williams) and the friend is fruitfully rich with symbolism, if you’re into that kind of thing. Trying to save the brother doesn’t help, since he winds up drinking himself to death anyway, this time out of hate for his sister.

That sends her into a downward spiral, and only seeing Napier will keep her from dying from an unspecified illness, only he’s now married to a proper little thing named Venice (Elizabeth Allan) who calls him “Naps”. I found the way people flat-out told others what they wanted and what they were thinking, especially this other family friend who kept showing up whenever anyone had a problem or concern so they’d have someone to explain it to, ridiculous. I have no idea why they were making such stage-y versions of the problems of the rich during the Depression. I guess for the same reason people today watch the Real Housewives shows.

Paul (2011) — This kept pleasantly surprising me, from the way it beautifully expressed the joy of going to Comic-Con to Jane Lynch showing up as a waitress at an alien tie-in roadside store and cafe. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two sci-fi nerds touring America, checking out places like Area 51, when they find a runaway alien voiced by Seth Rogen.

Great cast, with Jason Bateman as an agent, Kristen Wiig as the fundamentalist daughter of an RV park owner, a voice cameo by Steven Spielberg, and Sigourney Weaver as a mastermind. The whole film is a love letter to geekdom, cute and funny.

Sin Takes a Holiday (1930) — Not nearly as spicy as the title suggests, this is a rather predictable filmed play starring Constance Bennett as a secretary who marries her boss (the unknown-to-me Kenneth MacKenna). He proposes it as a way to deter his girlfriend, a woman planning to get divorced and marry him. Yes, that’s right, he doesn’t want to get married, so he gets married. Bennett accepts because it will give her enough money to travel and buy some nice clothes.

If anyone watches this today, it’s probably for Basil Rathbone, who plays the charming roue’ Bennett meets on her trip to Paris. As expected, when she returns home, her makeover, now that she can afford it, and her bringing a “lover” makes her more attractive to her husband-in-name-only, and the couple then falls in love and makes their marriage real. The purpose of these types of films is to perpetuate the view of marriage as an important thing to respect, with almost a magical ability to bring those under it together, even if they enter it casually or for other reasons.

While watching this, KC asked me why there were so many arranged or otherwise paper marriages in these movies. I suspect it was because it allowed the writers to put the characters together more easily. We’re looking at a time where single men and women weren’t supposed to be alone together — consider their reputations! Having them married allowed them to share more intimate settings. Plus, it forced them to keep being thrown into contact with each other.

DVDs

Ally McBeal Season 1 — For a variety of reasons, most involving David E. Kelley and Robert Downey Jr., we bought the complete series when it came out, and we’re just now getting around to watching it. I remember seeing the first episode when it was released — actually, before, since I was splitting an apartment at the time with a TV critic who kept saying how terrific a portrait this was of the modern woman. I’m not so sure about that, but now, this is another memory time capsule of a time when everything was uncertain but people were still doing well enough to spend time agonizing about relationships between the sexes (instead of, say, how to keep food on the table). As with many of the more enjoyable series these days, it takes it a while to get going. I’ve missed Fish-isms and “Bygones!”

Glee Season 1 — It’s quite odd watching this show get started, compared to where it is now. Matthew Morrison doesn’t sing so much these days, and we see less of the teachers overall. The music was a bit more diverse back then, I think, as they had fewer choices available to them (back when they were an untested project). There were more fantasy numbers, too, whereas now they just throw the cast onto a stage. I don’t miss the pregnancy plotlines at all, nor do I miss crazy wife.

I’m left full of questions about things I forgot the show did. When did Artie stop playing guitar? What happened to Matt Rutherford, the black football player/dancer who joined when Mike Chang did? Why did they stop writing Quinn as so sure of herself and knowing what she wanted, even if her desires were shallow? When did Tina quit looking like a goth skater? Does anyone remember that Rachel and Puck were together? Or that Kurt was on the football team? AND the cheerleaders?

Speaking of which, it’s still powerful watching Kurt grow up and into himself. Otherwise, the show doesn’t age well, since the plotlines are all over the place. It may end up being TV from a particular era, a touchstone at the time but quickly forgotten as people move on.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008) — This is the fourth time, I think, I’ve tried to watch this, but this time, I finally finished it. It’s got a good cast, anchored by Simon Pegg, but it’s all just so unpleasant about everything. Pegg plays a British journalist who thinks he’s so smart about how shallow Hollywood is but really wants to be part of that celebrity world, even if it means abasing himself and being hated by the famous. He jumps at the chance to write for a major American magazine and moves to New York City, where he has misadventures.

Pegg’s character makes lots of comments about being too smart to be taken in by the celebrity culture, but his actions belie his words. He hates it verbally because he loves it so much internally. Jeff Bridges is his editor, Kirsten Dunst a fellow writer, Megan Fox the actress lust object represented by publicist Gillian Anderson. Lots of cringe comedy as Pegg’s character gets embarrassed and humiliated. Based on Toby Young’s memoir of his time at Vanity Fair, although revised to be a more traditional romantic comedy. Predictable, and not particularly funny.

Whisper of the Heart (1995) — I was reminded of this movie due to its recent release on Blu-ray, so I dug out my DVD. The bit about rewriting the lyrics to “Country Roads” doesn’t get any better with age, but I could appreciate much more the suburban and country settings now that I’ve seen other Ghibli films. The boy’s goal of becoming a violin maker strikes me as one of the odder job choices in fiction, but it’s handled well. It makes me wish that Only Yesterday was available in the U.S., since that’s josei to this film’s shojo approach.

4 Responses  
David Oakes writes:  

“Bygones!”

Oh, yes. That is what Dr. Who has been reminding me of for the past season and a half. Thank you for figuring this out for me.

Now I am trying to decide if “David E. Kelly’s Torchwood” is a bad thing or not.

 
Johanna writes:  

(Shiver) What a weird concept! Although what with the over-talking and the unisex and fetishes and all, maybe they aren’t as far apart as I think.

 
This Week on TCM: Constance Bennett Month Begins » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] evening’s slate. Lady With a Past is followed by Sin Takes a Holiday (which I’ve also previously mentioned), in which she’s a secretary who marries her boss to protect him from another woman. It feels [...]

 
Identity Thief » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download June 4. It’s directed by Seth Gordon, whose previous film Horrible Bosses had a lot of the same bad attitude and structural problems. The trailer pretty much covers the [...]

 

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