Friday, March 26, 2010

#149 Adam's Rib (1949)


Director: George Cukor

Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, David Wayne, Jean Haygen

I've been on a Hepburn rampage this week, as I borrowed Haley's collection. So here, third in a row, is another Hepburn film I've watched that graces my list. Adam's Rib is the story of two married lawyers (Hepburn and Tracy) who face each other in a court case regarding a woman who has shot her husband after she catches him cheating. Mrs. Bonner (Hepburn) is defending the woman on the grounds of equal rights for women, attacking the double standards for cheating men and women. Mr. Bonner (Tracy) represents the public who is charging the defendant with assault and attempted murder.

In the beginning, the couple seem blissfully happy as a married couple. But as the case gets more complicated and Mrs. Bonner stirs up more interest in her defense, their marriage goes on the rocks. The end of the case and the result of the marriage, I won't spoil in my review, but it's not so hard to make a guess of what happens. The humor in the film is somewhat iffy, though Hepburn maintains a captivating screen presence, as always.

I guess I'm struggling with the Tracy-Hepburn screen dynamic in comparison to that which existed between herself and Cary Grant. I took it upon myself to do a little research, and it turns out that Tracy and Hepburn actually maintained a very long real-life relationship off-screen until Tracy's death in 1967. Perplexing indeed.

I'm just not sold on it though. Also this week I've watched Woman of The Year-- another Tracy-Hepburn flick which is not a part of my list, and same thing there-- lack of attachment to characters and plot. Maybe it is a personal bias against Spencer Tracy, but something about him just isn't clicking with me in these films. He leaves a Ben Affleck after-taste in my mouth, which I assure you, is not a good thing.

More Cary Grant please.

Also, I find the "rub-down" scenes in this film to be somewhat disturbing.
That is all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#148 Bringing Up Baby (1938)


Director: Howard Hawks

Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, Leona Roberts

Bringing Up Baby is the second Katharine Hepburn flick of the project and the third of my life-- and I was not let down. Cary Grant and Hepburn both play hilarious characters destined for misadventure with one another. Hepburn is always a splash in comedy, but the real surprise of the film was Grant who plays a delightfully dimwitted and tweedy scientist. How refreshing to see Grant in a role other than the dashing ladies' man he typically portrays!

Grant is Huxley, a paleontologist trying to woo the lawyer of a rich woman who is considering donating 1 million dollars to the museum of his employment. On the golf course, he haphazardly meets Susan Vance (Hepburn) who begins a never-ending mixup (seemingly on purpose), intertwining their lives to the point of no return. Her misadventures begin when she accidently plays his ball on the golf course, steals his car, and rips his coat and her dress at a party later that evening. Deciding he is the man she is destined to marry, she will force to include him in the seemingly insane task of taking care of a leopard her cousin has sent her from afar.

The actors are brilliant, but the involvement of the leopard (named Baby) was just a little too ridiculous for me. Also, there were a few scenes where the misunderstandings get too crazy, and the dialogue results in just a mash-up of 10 characters all yelling at once. Not my favorite Hepburn, but definitely a great movie and worth the few dollars to rent it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#147 The Philadelphia Story (1940)


Director: George Cuckor

Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Ruth Hussey, John Howard, Roland Young

A remarkable comedic romance starring Katharine Hepburn as Tracy, an elegant upper-class woman engaged to be married for the second time in her life. This time, she's engaged to someone of a lower class, and as her wedding approaches, people come out of the woodworks to make things difficult for her. Despite her successful efforts to keep her socialite life incredibly private in her first marriage, reporters have found their way into her wedding (Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey) thanks to her suave and good-humored ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant). Thus begins the two-hour comedy of Hepburn juggling her guests, performing for the reporters, handling her ex, and all the while trying to save face.

The story is unexpected in parts, and on the whole, incredibly funny. I am always so pleased when classic films manage to crack me up, as so often I find the humor to be wrung out through long dialogue. This movie was a great exception, as it had me laughing almost the whole time.

Superbly pleasant and another one of my favorites so far in this project. Yes yes yes. More please!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#146 Raising Arizona (1987)


Director: Joel Coen (The Coen Brothers)

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Trey Wilson, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray

The Coen Brother's second film, Raising Arizona, is a ridiculous comedy featuring Nicolas Cage as Herbet I. McDunnough (you can call him H.I. for short), an outlaw who has never taken his crimes too seriously. He smiles for his mugshots but wishes he could stay straighter-- ahh, but that damn Reagan guy in the White House just makes it so hard. He forms a relationship with the woman taking his pictures in lineup (Holly Hunter) named Ed, and the two of them marry and begin a life together after H.I. is released after his 3rd stint in the jail of her employment.

She resigns from her post, and the two attempt to start a family, alas-- they cannot conceive. It is only so convenient that someone in town has just given birth to quintuplets, and Ed and H.I. take it upon themselves to take one off their hands, seeing it as only fair that they should at least get one. "They have more than they can handle."

The movie reminded me a lot of My Name is Earl-- western accents twanging, hillbilly logic, trailer homes, and wife beaters. The humor is somewhat low brow, though at times it surprises you with glimpses deeper into the characters. On the whole, I didn't find it to be that great of a film. John Goodman's acting is always a pleasure though, and in this film he plays another escaped convict who tries to steal the baby (Nathan Jr.) from the McDonnough's for the reward of returning him.

The film was pleasant, and the characters were sometimes very cute-- particularly Holly Hunter. I don't think I would ever go out of my way to see this film again, but if it was on television, I might pause and watch a bit... instead of clicking by.

Monday, March 8, 2010

#145 Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)


Director: Nick Broomfield

Cast: Nick Broomfield, Arlene Pralle, Aileen Wuornos, Steve Glaser

This is the documentary of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Or was she a serial killer? Or is this documentary even about her killings? Or her? Not really.

This documentary is actually a look at the people surrounding her case: the police, her adoptive mother (adopting her just after she was arrested, oddly enough), her makeshift lawyer, the courts, etc. Her case is unique in that is shrouded in lies, back-tracking, a complicated history, and a slew of people that involved themselves in her case to make money. The documentary focuses mostly on her lawyer, Steve Glaser, a pot-smoking hippie who calls himself Dr. Legal and seems far more interested in writing classic rock anthems about her case than about working on it... as well as her seemingly insane adoptive mother, who adopted Aileen just as she was brought to court, charging outrageous amounts of money for interviews and movie deals. The two, together, seemed to manipulate and turn heads, convincing Aileen to plead no contest and to take the death penalty...

Oh, it's confusing. I've actually clouded my thoughts on this film by watching the follow-up documentary created by Broomfield 12 years later entitled The Life and Death of a Serial Killer. In this documentary, we get a foggy look at Aileen's complicated and abusive childhood, her lesbian relationships, her callgirl work, and her side of the story (though it changed from interview to interview).

One thing is for certain, however. The legal happenings surrounding this case certainly seemed beyond backwards. Aileen Wuornos was an abused child, coming from a home of incest, betrayal, abuse, homelessness, teen pregnancy, prostitution, hitch-hiking... you name it, she experienced it. She entered into the world of being a hitch-hiking hooker, where she allegedly began murdering her customers-- 8 in total. In the end, she was charged with 6 counts of the death penalty, and her sentence was indeed carried out. However, along the way, her lawyer, crazed adoptive mother, abusive people from her childhood, AND the police working on her case were all found guilty of cheating her and using her for movie deals and money.

Back and forth throughout the film, Broomfield interviews Wuornos, who sometimes testifies extremely convincingly that she had been brutally raped, and only killed customers when she thought she was in serious danger of being murdered herself. Sometimes, however, she would renounce these statements and said she killed to make burglary easier. It's a confusing mash-up of who is lying and who isn't, and by the end of the second documentary, the filmmaker himself is on the witness stand.

The end of the film makes a pointed view of the final days of Wuornos. Obviously completely driven to insanity, she raves about conspiracy theories, poisons, in-jail rapes, and even aliens. It is pointed out that the day before her execution she was considered by state psychologists to be perfectly sane, and thus, her sentence was carried out. At the end of the film, there seems to be a silent bond between filmmaker and audience that something seriously wrong has taken place within the justice system-- though it's absolutely impossible to know where to point the finger.

Was Wuornos truly a cold-blooded killer? And in the end, after all the corruption, lies, cheating, cover-up, wrongful profit surrounding her case... did it really matter? Chilling indeed.

The movie Monster was in fact released as a Hollywood picture about her. After all the disgusting information about how these movie deals came to be, it's almost hard to stomach the thought of watching such a film-- when even a documentary filmmaker 15-years-on-the-job wasn't able to really uncover the truth. How can we trust that Hollywood even had a clue?

Ah well.
If you're interested in crime, documentary, political corruption... it's all very fascinating, albeit very disturbing. I do recommend, however, if you watch The Selling of a Serial Killer that you follow up with the second documentary. It is much more telling and focused on the woman herself, although both sides of the story are worth raising an eyebrow over.

#144 Brief Encounter (1945)


Director: David Lean

Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Everley Gregg

Perhaps the most quintessential love story ever portrayed on screen-- this is the story of a young, suburban married woman named Laura who, by happenstance, meets the handsome and married doctor, Alec, on a train platform in England. Over the course of a few weeks, the two continue to cross paths until, giving into fate, they begin developing a secret, ritualistic romance every Thursday at the train station. The film specializes in showing the quiet, subtle details of their romance, as they are forced to fall for each other discreetly in the public eye, both wracked from the guilt they feel for their spouses at home.

The story is told in pained flashback by Laura, as she tells her husband the truth in her head. Her monologue is truthful, sincere, and not at all contrived like you might expect for such a story.

Even though the plot itself was not a surprise, the ending proved to be not so predictable. Also, unlike many movies of this era, it didn't seem to drag at all-- no real low points or overly long stretches of dialogue. Compositionally, shot for shot, it was a beautiful film, but the reason it remains so captivating and deserving of four stars is the way the director chose to capture the developing romance. Not in long love confessions, but rather in glances. In thoughts. In body language. In gesture.
A movie full of subtly, pain, longing, and beautiful people.

A great film for the classic film enthusiast like myself.