Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Meet John Doe, or: I Protest!

This week’s film wraps up the pseudo-Christmas theme of the month and another year(?!!??!) of the Blog Collab.  If I had realized that, I might have picked something more in line with horror and/or film noir since those are the essential genres of this blog…though we still get a touch of horror from this week’s frequently too real selection.

The Film:

Meet John Doe

Where to Watch:

Internet Archive (yes—this one is in the public domain [along with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians])

The Premise:

A newspaper columnist and an unemployed all-American type unintentionally kick off a political movement with the publication of a fake suicide letter.

The Uncondensed Version:

Newspaper columnist Ann is out of work and desperate to hold onto the salary that supports her mother and younger sisters.  Since she’s lost her job but still needs to write one final column, she writes an imaginary suicide note from a man protesting the state of civilization.  Fair enough, honestly.

4.PNG
The face you make when you can’t say what you’re really thinking to a manager.

This John Doe will jump off a building on Christmas Eve to make his statement—a statement that apparently resonates with many Americans who see the letter in print.  With her job back, weekly column reinstated in the form of letters from John Doe, and a story quickly becoming headline news, Ann is determined to keep a good thing going.  She schemes with the newspaper execs to find a real John Doe to draw even more public attention.

This, of course, is Gary Cooper, who used to play baseball but is now homeless.  At first, John merely needs to pretend he’s the man behind the letters, but soon the paper and the people ask more and more of him.  As his friend the Colonel warns him, “when you become a guy with a bank account, they’ve got you.”

5.png
Movies are the only times when you should listen to the conspiracy theorist.

John gains an ever-increasing following that starts a political movement.  He refuses to identify with either major political party, so John Doe Clubs sprout up all across the country.  Buttons and signs with John’s face and inspirational messages about being a good neighbor are suddenly everywhere…which means someone will inevitably try to capitalize on the situation.  Obviously things fall apart when wealthy political wannabes get involved…which is just way too real even 70+ years later.  Damn it, Frank Capra.  Too on the nose.

Oh, also there’s a romantic subplot because it’s Frank Capra.

6.png
Yay for…on-screen relationships with zero chemistry?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a Frank Capra film, so there’s a strong optimism underlying the story along with an idealization of the all-American underdog, and a commitment to doing right even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong.  Many of the themes and story elements present in other Capra movies are here too, but they come across as a bit rehashed and less defined.  This feels like watching the 10th or so Woody Allen movie about infidelity and failed relationships–Jesus fucking Christ, dude, we get it.  There were also a shitload of baseball references I didn’t understand.

IDK if it was a good decision to watch this around Christmas because It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my absolute favorites.  I inevitably compared Gary Cooper to Jimmy Stewart, and I just don’t think he has the natural charm and squeeze-ability of J-Stew.  Gary Cooper feels more tough and reserved like later Jimmy Stewart, but I find earlier Jimmy more fun and sweet to watch.  It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—Barbara Stanwyck is great in this.  This just doesn’t grip me like some of Capra’s other work.  It’s very possible that I’ve become too cynical to enjoy things anyway.

Would Christa stand up to the Man with this one or take the $50 and run?  Find out here!

Advertisements
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blue Jay, or: The Snow Turned into Rain

Frankly, the only connection to Christmas in this week’s film is that it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a movie adaptation of “Same Old Lang Syne,” the only Christmas song bleak enough for me to enjoy.  Chance meetings in grocery stores, lost love, and cringeworthy dancing abound.  (Speaking of songs being made into movies…I swear “Sk8er Boi” was supposed to be a feature-length movie at some point.  Just so you’re aware, Hollywood, I’d still watch that movie.)

The Film:

Blue Jay

Where to Watch:

Netflix

The Uncondensed Version:

Both Amanda and Jim return to visit their small hometown for their own reasons—one is a more uplifting reason than the other’s.  While running an errand to the grocery store, they bump into each other down the salad dressing aisle (not a euphemism).

1.png
Hello…is it Greek you’re looking for?

Amanda is in town to visit her pregnant sister, while both seem to know Jim’s reasons for visiting but avoid stating explicitly what it is.  The two are friendly but awkward, as they were apparently the couple in high school that everyone thought would live happily ever after.  They are just about to go their separate ways when Jim asks her to get coffee and catch up.

Since high school, our couple’s paths have diverged completely—Jim works on houses, while Amanda is a wife and stepmother, running an animal shelter.  Jim is very emotional, having just lost his mother and sorting through her house.

Since both of our leads are willing to linger, they decide to go around the world—meaning creating their own 6-pack of beer from around the world at the local convenience store.  The owner recognizes them, so they lie about still being together, which earns them free beers!  Not a bad gig, honestly.

As the beers start flowing, Amanda and Jim get real and move past the pleasant small talk.  Amanda worries about Jim, who lost his job after snapping and beating up his uncle.  He lives in Tucson but appears to be drifting in virtually every sense of the word.  Meanwhile, Amanda is on antidepressants and dreads having to take care of her significantly older husband in a few short years.

3.png

Amanda and Jim make their way to his mother’s house, where they discover a treasure trove of romance novels, poor Jim’s high school wardrobe and diary, and some rather embarrassing tapes they recorded together.  One tape imagines their 40th anniversary together, which they decide to jokingly reenact.  This proves (1) as teenagers they had no concept of time (they’d be nearly 60 at the youngest, yet no talk of retirement.  Maybe they knew even then the horrifyingly real possibility of never being able to afford retirement) and, (2) ice cream soup brings people together.

This is followed by embarrassing dancing and drinking in the bed of a pick-up truck.  You know regretful choices are going to happen, and the two share a moment that unravels everything, turning a sweet day together somewhat sour.  Details of their split finally emerge, and both express some of the bitterness they’ve held on to over the years.  Can Amanda and Jim salvage this experience and keep a fond memory?

5.png
IDK, but that looks really uncomfortable, honestly.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a very quiet, reflective, “thinking” movie, if you like.  The plot is scant, but the characters and dialogue carry the film.

I would say 4 based on enjoyment, but I had to knock off at least 1/2 of a star based on Jim’s reaction to something Amanda did 20 years ago.  It’s completely about him and shows no emotional growth.  That’s the nice thing about this film—it does allow both characters to revisit the past and grow up, moving on properly after bottling feelings about their relationship for so long.  I think that’s a bit of a weakness too, as it does at times seem our characters haven’t matured emotionally beyond high school.  But that’s true of most people, isn’t it (sort of joking/sort of not)?

Amanda’s brief but resonant discussion of depression is some of the film’s best dialogue…but I’ll be honest, the dialogue is virtually flawless.  All of it is a high point here.

Maybe Jim’s reaction at the end will piss you off less than it did me because this really is a very moving, contemplative look at the past and seeking closure.

What did my blog wife think?  Would she revisit this one or break its heart and never look back?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or: The Star Trek of Christmas Movies

To continue the subgenre of, er, classic(?) film, and without further ado…Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

The Film:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Premise:

Martians kidnap Santa!  Because…their children need to enjoy childhood more?

The Uncondensed Version:

The Martians are facing a real but probably not instantly resolved problem—their children spend too much time watching TV and not enough time enjoying childhood.  These Earth TV programs are corrupting the youth, turning their minds to mush…you’ve heard it before.  This is in a society in which it’s considered totally appropriate to use sleep spray to send children to sleep (that’s a euphemism for chloroform, isn’t it?!?!?!).  Martians seem to be extremely open to the power of persuasion, so when they hear a news program suggesting Mars needs its own Santa, they decide to kidnap Santa.  Obviously.

3.png
Why spend time with your Martian children when you can just kidnap an elderly man to make toys for them instead?

 

Throwing a wrench in this ingenious plan are (1) logic and (2) Voldar.  Logical gaps come in the form of the Martians turning on their radar shields only AFTER being detected, as well as kidnapping 2 Earth children…so they won’t tell the authorities and so no one will suspect Martians kidnapped Santa Claus.  WHAT.

Voldar is definitely the main antagonist here and honestly a bit of a hero.  He tells the children to their faces their theories are stupid, and is against the whole concept of children having fun, playing, enjoying life, etc.

7.png
Exemplifying that the mustachioed character is always evil.

Although the children escape to warn Santa (even braving a fierce polar bear and, inexplicably, a robot Voldar tries to program to destroy them), it’s too late.  The Martians use their freeze rays to kidnap Santa and bring him back to Mars.  This, of course, begs the question of why the fuck you even need Santa when you have freeze rays.

5.png
Terrifying.

 

Once aboard the ship, Santa comforts the children with a mix of dad jokes and rather sinister laughter.  What will happen next???  You know.  Believe me, you already know.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

This one regularly makes worst movie lists…with good reason.  It’s like watching one of the cheesier episodes of Star Trek:  TOS (like that one where the costume designer wrapped a dog in a shaggy rug and called it an alien)–complete with horrible special effects, cheesy fight scenes, awful one-liners, a lead male putting odd emphasis on the word “sabotage,” and a simplistic message about morality that hits you over the head with a mallet.  Also like some of the worst Star Trek eps, this is bearable for only about half of its run time.  The first half is admittedly entertaining in an utterly cheesy, campy, and cringe-worthy kind of way.

It does get darker than I expected, as Voldar tries to throw Santa and the children out of the airlock.  Maybe this is just who I am, but I was totally rooting for the villain here.  The children are ANNOYING, and Santa’s blind faith in humanity is grating.  Was also hoping for some kind of horrible Santa vs. aliens fight scene.

Was my blog wife on board the UFO for this one, or was she tempted to throw it out of the airlock?  Find out here!

 

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Sunset Boulevard, or: Christmas Party for Two

We’re kicking off what was intended as a month of Christmas-themed classics with…Sunset Boulevard.  HEY—a Christmas party happens in the course of this film PLUS there are so many horrible financial decisions that it’s basically the story of my Christmas every year.

The Film:

Sunset Boulevard

The Premise:

Please tell me you know this.  Lie if you have to.

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

I’ll try to keep the summary short since this is possibly THE movie classic and I really feel you need to watch this if you haven’t.  It’s so good, and Gloria Swanson’s performance makes life worth living.  This is that film about an aging star deluding herself, grooming and controlling a much younger man, and uttering that line about being ready for her close-up.

It can’t be spoiler-y to reveal our protagonist Joe’s death—for one thing, this film is 60+ years old, and for the other, the narrator tells us within 5 minutes of the beginning that the body floating in the pool is his own.

As a result, the mystery here is not who was murdered, but how, why, and by whom.  Rather interestingly, the way Joe frames his story, he offers the facts to those who want the truth.  …So that may not be a hell of a lot of people in these post-truth times (to get just a teensy bit topical).

Flashback to 6 months earlier, when Joe was a broke, unsuccessful screenwriter trying to scrape together $300 to save his car from being repossessed.  His last effort to make money honestly is pitching an original story about a baseball player who must throw the World Series, which is flat-out refused to his face by a woman named Betty, who will be important later.

1.png
“I remember Manderley…”  Oops–wrong film.

As Joe leaves, he runs into his creditors and loses them by parking in an empty garage that appears to be part of an abandoned estate.  However, as Joe quickly learns, this creepy old house belongs to none other than former silent movie star Norma Desmond.  Like Miss Havisham, Norma lives in the past and, since she never appears to leave the house, she is both literally and figuratively detached from reality.  God, but she’s a fucking brilliant badass and quite honestly my personal hero.  In Norma Desmond’s words, “I AM big—it’s the pictures that got small.”

The first meeting is incredibly surreal as Norma believes Joe is there to bring a monkey-sized coffin for her dead monkey (not a euphemism).  Things deteriorate when she discovers Joe is a screenwriter and gets the question all Hollywood types must dread:  Can you read my screenplay?

7.png
How can you possibly find the nude scenes for the aspiring screenwriter gratuitous?

Norma’s screenplay is a retelling of the story of Salome, starring its writer in her comeback role (“I hate the word; it’s a return”).

Joe agrees to this, but is immediately incredibly weirded out when Max, Norma’s all-purpose maid, chauffeur, butler, and provider of organ music, moves all of Joe’s belongings into the house overnight.  Their relationship gets more uncomfortable for Joe as Norma pretty much Pygmalions him with a new wardrobe, gold-plated watches and cigarettes, and moves him to the room where her husband used to sleep.  Norma is becoming dependent on Joe to the point of obsession, but Joe continues to hold her at arm’s length with a mixture of pity and disdain.  But not enough disdain to refuse the rent-free stay in her mansion or the many gifts she bestows on him, of course.

The tension amps up when Joe runs into Betty again and Norma fears losing both her return to the big screen as well as her man (admittedly something of a wet blanket).  All of this leads to a spectacular mess that is just so goddamn fun to watch fall apart and full of opportunities for Gloria Swanson to flash some major crazy eyes (and do her best Charlie Chaplin impression for some reason), which is of course swept along by sudden, dramatic music in true ‘50s noir style.

5.png
WHAT.

I’d be happy doing Noir 2.0 for this month—fuck, I love film noir.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

There’s a reason this is a classic.  This is a perfect movie AND a brilliant film noir with a career-defining performance from Gloria Swanson.  I don’t like William Holden at all, but that never detracts from this film in the least.  In fact, I reluctantly admit this was a good role for him as it requires a balance between being a total sleaze vs sticking to his principles, which creates some of the film’s carefully crafted dramatic tension.

That being said, Gloria Swanson is clearly the star here, and pulls off completely delusional yet sympathetic and arguably somewhat heroic.  She is the underdog here, and I think it’s impossible not to root for her return to the screen.  Hollywood has taken her youth and talent to leave her wasting away in her mansion/prison.

Serious question:  are there any other films dealing with ageism in Hollywood or ageism at all?  Advantageous, as reviewed for the collab, comes to mind, but that’s the only other movie I can think of.  I’m glad we see older ladies on the screen like heroes Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, but Sunset Boulevard’s interest in Hollywood ageism still holds up.

The role reversal in this film is great too; it feels much like the inverse of Rebecca or My Fair Lady but with a much more tragic twist, esp. re: women holding the power in a romantic relationship.  I imagine this story wasn’t intended to question gender roles at the time given its ending, but it leaves things just ambiguous enough for viewers to draw their own conclusions.  Was it wrong for Norma to take advantage of Joe’s situation, or were they both disenfranchised by the Hollywood movie machine?  Watch this film and write 500 words in response.

Did Christa think this made a big return or did it fail to make a comeback?  Find out here!