Setter’s ‘Spectives: A Paean to Luise Rainer

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Today, Tuesday, December 30, 2014, the great actress Luise Rainer reportedly died at the advanced age of 104.

She was a terrific thespian, one of the important Jewish performers in Hollywood, and a standout for roles such as O-Lan in The Good Earth, a classic of the cinema. In that film, she played opposite Paul Muni, who distinguished himself as well. Surprisingly, she isn’t as well-remembered as other celluloid stars, and I’m not sure why. Her body of work is excellent, her performances consistent. This is someone who should be on the tongues of anyone interested in the movies and the history of motion pictures. She was a good one.

I wonder if the lack of immediate recognition her name elicits in some circles is because she wasn’t a traditional Hollywood beauty. She was certainly striking, no doubt about that, but the real glamour was in her acting, not her features. I hope that leads to her name being recalled with fondness in the future.

I will do that, for sure.

Skip’s Quips: Why This Baseball Fan Liked ‘Million Dollar Arm’

Blog Sketch 082813OK, I’m a sucker for baseball – even in December. I’m a big fan of America’s pastime. I used to watch the New York Yankees every chance I got.

That said, I didn’t expect to like Million Dollar Arm. I thought it was going to be cheesy. Overly sentimental. Junk.

Wow, was I surprised. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but boy, was it enjoyable. And what a story: It’s the based-on-truth tale of a sports agent (expertly played by Jon Hamm) who journeys to India in a quest to find hard-throwing baseball pitchers from the subcontinent.

Oh, yeah: And Alan Arkin is in it, so what could be bad, right?

What impressed me was the quality of the script, as well as the skill of director Craig Gillespie in moving the film along. Then you had terrific ensemble performances, not only by Hamm and Arkin, but also by the excellent Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, who portray the new-to-baseball pitchers perfectly. You have some fun fish-out-of-water situations with Hamm, Sharma and Mittal all getting culture shock from the countries they travel to, along with more serious themes about the importance of family and ambition. It’s nothing profound, but it’s quality entertainment. And in this day and age, that’s important.

I don’t like all movies about baseball, despite my predilection for the game. Million Dollar Arm, however, is a good one. It was somewhat unsung this year; perhaps more viewers can rectify that. Whether it will be a sports classic in time is not known as yet. All I know is I had an enjoyable time watching it. Hopefully, you will, too.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Revisiting and Enjoying ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613It’s hard to go back and dig the movies you loved in childhood as much after becoming an adult, but I’d say Meet Me in St. Louis stands the test of time. This favorite of old has a real evergreen quality, with charming, tuneful songs, able performances and vibrant direction.

So why haven’t I seen it that often?

It’s not always on TV; there’s one reason. And the fact is, I chanced upon it last night on the telly. For some reason, I don’t seek it out like I do other movies. I guess that’s too bad. It’s really worth looking for.

Of course, it’s Judy Garland’s movie, and she’s terrific in it. The film basically glows, and it’s mostly because of her; she sings the marvelous tunes with such feeling that you’re likely to join her in regaling your loved ones with the catchy melodies. I did, despite the fact that my pipes are nowhere near what Garland’s were.

That didn’t stop me, however.

Meet Me in St. Louis is one of those pictures that has aged as gracefully as a fine wine, and it’s one of the few flicks that remains as good now as it did when I was a kid. I’m happy about that; it makes revisiting my childhood all the more special while allowing me to retain a grown-up’s perspective. You don’t get that chance too often. You’ve got to enjoy it while it lasts.

I’m doing that right now.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: When a Little Bit’s Enough

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I only got the chance to see the last 30 minutes or so of Make Way for Tomorrow last night on TV, but I didn’t need any more.

This melancholy tale, starring Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi as a pair of married seniors, was quite well done … and I knew I didn’t need to watch it further to make that determination. There was part of me that didn’t want to view more anyway, as it was rather sniffle-inducing, and I was more in the mood for something lighthearted. This picture had lively moments, certainly, but it ended on a sad note. Not the kind of pick-me-up fare I was seeking.

Still, I’m wondering whether I’ll encounter it again in the future. It’ll probably be back on the telly at some point, though it’s hard to say whether I’ll be in front of it then. Maybe I’ll revisit it and start from the beginning. Or maybe I’ll just let it go. Sometimes the experience of a movie isn’t always a complete one. Sometimes it’s better to leave it unfinished.

Perhaps this is one of those times. A little bit was enough on this occasion. Whether it might do the trick for the rest of my life, I don’t know.

Skip’s Quips: Christmas Confessions of a Nice Jewish Boy

Blog Sketch 082813I love watching the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim during the holiday season.

Does it matter that I’m Jewish? I don’t think so. It’s a timeless story, with thrills, chills and a wonderful moral sensibility. Religion, methinks, is irrelevant when it comes to the cinema.

I do think it’s a shame that there aren’t that many films around that celebrate the Hanukkah holiday by telling the story of Judah Maccabee and his brethren. It’s a fascinating tale that would be most conducive to celluloid.

But I’m not at all against the trappings of Christmas on the telly. In fact, I welcome them. They bring a festive air to the season, which is much needed when the snow falls and the wind turns cold.

Viewing A Christmas Carol is one of my annual holiday traditions. I equate it to having turkey on Thanksgiving. You just can’t do without it.

And a great film is a great film, no matter what the subtext suggests. So I’m going to continue to watch Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge this season. And enjoy it. Until next year, of course. When the time for it comes around again.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Traveling Down a Not-So-Lost Highway With ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Oh, goody. We’re going to see dirty, dust-covered vehicles blow up again in Mad Max: Fury Road come 2015.

Pardon me, but I’m not going to get excited about this. I didn’t even care for the previous installments in director George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series, including the original Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. These may have been kinetic films, but they also presented a dreary, despondent vision of society that I wanted no part of … and didn’t enjoy watching.

Once again, I’m probably in the minority on this, though. Fury Road will likely be a hit.

It does depend, however, on whether people’s taste for such pictures remains the same. I think the Mad Max flicks of the past decades caught lightning in a bottle; fantasy films were big, and the vision of filthy cars, souped-up battling each other along never-ending highways at some point in the future was an original one.

Can Fury Road resurrect this franchise? It remains to be seen. The trailer promises the usual explosions and mayhem (hey, is that Verdi’s Requiem in there, too?), so I suspect there will be interest among fans of the original series.

That may be enough to propel this movie into successful territory. Next year, we’ll know for sure.

Skip’s Quips: Where Have All the Animal Movies Gone?

Blog Sketch 082813Doesn’t it seem like a long time has passed since Air Bud debuted?

Hey, it’s only been 17 years. Feels like an age, no?

I think there’s a reason for this. We’re not seeing a lot of live-action movies starring dogs, cats or other animals these days – certainly not as much as in previous years. Yes, there are plenty of CGI-flavored animated films portraying the beastie set. But the likes of Air Bud, Beethoven and Marley & Me seem to have gone to the dogs. We’re not getting as many of those kinds of flicks anymore. Why?

I wonder if it’s more economical for studios to develop animated pictures dealing with all creatures great and small than it is to do live-action ones requiring the onscreen talents of various stars. Or maybe the public has had its fill of Turner & Hooch and its ilk. That could be a possibility. Perhaps tastes have changed … though I’m not sure the taste for buddy films centering on the relationship between man and canine could ever be construed as being “good.”

To tell you the truth, I kind of miss these generally dreadful pieces of celluloid. I don’t know why. They almost always featured coarse slapstick comedy and schmaltzy sentimentality. Am I, at heart, a sucker for that?

Nah. I’ll give ya, maybe, Lassie Come Home and A Dog of Flanders. Air Bud? Nope.

Oh, that reminds me: Someone should do a film of Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. That’s at least a well-written story that’s cinematic. Unlike Beethoven.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Filling the Cinematic Gaps

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Gosh, do I have a lot of movies I need to see.

I was just reminded on Twitter today to watch Bad Day at Black Rock, a well-regarded picture with one of my least-favorite actors in it: Spencer Tracy. I’m told he was good in the film, and that intrigues me. But what interests me more is how many flicks I’ve never viewed.

I’ve either got a lot to enjoy from a cinematic perspective in the future or a tremendous number of gaps in my celluloid resume.

Sometimes I wish I’d seen all the movies ever made … or at least all the ones worth seeing. That would make conversing about them a lot easier, and I wouldn’t have to display my ignorance like a light bulb in a dark room.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing that I haven’t experienced certain pictures yet. Perhaps I’ll enjoy them more when I do. Still, I have to wonder if I can count flicks that I’ve “partially” watched. Like 8 1/2, which I have never been able to get through. I can still talk about them with authority, right?

Or no? Maybe just a little authority?

Humph.

Skip’s Quips: What Happened to ‘The Angriest Man in Brooklyn’?

Blog Sketch 082813Most movies that start viewers off with narration bother me.

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is no exception, and I had to turn it off last night before getting past the first half hour or so.

Narration is a crutch frequently used, it seems, to offset the fact that a story somehow isn’t told traditionally through the action onscreen. The problem is, it usually winds up being tiresome and suspense-killing, which you don’t want in a movie. That’s what happened in TAMiB.

But what really happened there? A lot of talent was wasted in this film – including Robin Williams, Peter Dinklage and Mila Kunis – which had something to do with a very peeved lawyer (played by Williams) being told erroneously that he has 90 minutes to live. Oh, goody, that plot device. No wonder I couldn’t watch the picture.

The script was a mess, to say the least. It was hard to say what it was going for: a comedy or a drama. Or perhaps both. It didn’t matter; I lost interest. And I don’t expect to resume watching it soon.

If only there wasn’t any narration. Maybe things would’ve been a little better.

Maybe.