Skip’s Quips: ‘Random Harvest’ and the Art of (De)crying

Blog Sketch 082813Caught Random Harvest on TCM last night.

What a weeper. I mean, wow is it a weeper. Not my cup of tears, either.

Oh, I like Ronald Colman, don’t get me wrong. And Greer Garson, too. I just didn’t care for this story, which has something to do with Colman’s “Uncle” Charles getting amnesia and forgetting about how much everyone, especially Greer Garson’s Paula, loves him.

Yecch. Nausea-inducing. And this is regarded as a classic, ya know?

I’d never seen it all these years until yesterday evening. And now, I feel quite strongly that I don’t have to see it again. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I feel I have to speak out. Sappy stuff. And I like crying at the movies. Just not this one.

Someone get me a tissue made of stone, please.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Just Say ‘Ewww’ to ‘The V.I.P.s’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Normally, I don’t care for movies with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. So I wasn’t surprised to find that The V.I.P.s, their 1963 film under Anthony Asquith’s direction, was awful. And I mean awful.

Soapy, too. In a bad way, not in an I, Claudius fun way. This was soap without a lot of bubbles. Deadly dull, unperfumed, lather-free soap.

And trashy. The tale of a group of high-end passengers who get stuck in a London airport due to fog, The V.I.P.s went from one dreary relationship to another, from Burton and Taylor’s married-couple-on-the-outs to Rod Taylor’s nice-guy businessman whose secretary, played by Maggie Smith, has fallen in love with him. I didn’t find any of these situations credible, and they just got more tedious as the film rolled along. Plus, the cinematography didn’t help, either. Strange compositions seemed to include lamps or some kind of bizarre light fixture in many shots, leading them to be jarring. And the score by the normally reliable Miklós Rózsa was awfully syrupy. Not good, Miklós. Not good.

So what are the takeaways from this? Well, I still don’t like Burton-Taylor movies. I also don’t like bad movies. And I love I, Claudius.

If you can find meaning in that, you’re a better man (or woman) than I.

Skip’s Quips: Losing No Sleep Over My Guilty Pleasures

Blog Sketch 082813Don’t hate me because I watched Major League II on TV. Hate me because I kinda enjoyed it.

Yep. Just like Peter O’Toole’s character in Lawrence of Arabia. Except without all of the scary sadistic connotations.

Maybe it’s a masochistic enjoyment of sorts. After all, Major League II can’t be said to be a great movie. It isn’t even good. Actually, it’s rather bad. The script is blah. The cinematography is unimaginative. The performances are along the lines of “what am I doing in this picture? I should’ve tried out for Forrest Gump.”

Yet there are some humorous lines here and there. And I’m a sucker for baseball movies. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure; I’ll admit that freely.

There’s no shame in that, right? Or in watching Marked for Death whenever it’s on? All right, maybe there’s a little shame in that. But nothing to lose sleep over.

Kurosawa observed it rightly: The Bad Sleep Well. Or in this case, those who watch junky films and enjoy them as guilty pleasures.

I know I’m not alone.

Skip’s Quips: Another Day, Another Film Not Finished

Blog Sketch 082813I don’t know what’s going on, but these days, it’s hard for me to watch a single new movie straight through.

The latest cinematic example of this was In a World…,  Lake Bell’s mildly diverting comedy about a young woman trying to succeed in the movie trailer voiceover industry. Much of this flick didn’t ring true; perhaps it was too self-conscious for its own good. But I was able to view a couple of amusing moments before I lost interest and went to immerse myself in fantasy baseball.

That’s right. I gave up a night of movie viewing for a fake baseball game. Nothing says “this picture’s blah” more than that.

I think it was the script. There was something about it that seemed a little flat, as if there were potential joys it missed. It certainly was well cast, with actors such as Demetri Martin involved. I, however, just couldn’t get into it.

Perhaps the next one I’ll sit through fully. I think I’m on some kind of streak here.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: To Leave or Not to Leave

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613If a movie isn’t compelling in the first 15 minutes, then you don’t need to see the rest of it.

That’s my opinion, and I’ve held it for a while now, as well as lived by it … for the most part. Viewers shouldn’t force themselves to watch terrible flicks because they a) paid for them or b) are too polite to walk out on them. If they don’t grab you right away, chances are they won’t do so an hour into them.

Nowadays it’s easy just to change the channel on TV. It’s a lot harder to leave a theater in the middle of a picture, and I admit I haven’t always had the guts to follow my own mantra. Still, having the right to exit is enough for me.

I just wish I could’ve done so while viewing Watchmen. Oh, well.

Skip’s Quips: Disliking ‘The Comedians’ Is No Laughing Matter

Blog Sketch 082813Well, I tried to watch The Comedians. It was a valiant effort.

Unfortunately, it failed.

I’m not sure what the issue was. The pacing seemed off. Direction, by Peter Glenville, was a bit plodding, especially during the scenes involving Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who have never been my favorite acting team. It certainly was a powerful subject – Haiti during the reign of “Papa Doc” Duvalier – and it had some terrific performers, including Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, James Earl Jones and Lilian Gish, but the components didn’t really fit together. The movie felt like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with inaccurately measured pieces.

Oh, well. I do like trying new things, but this picture didn’t grab me. Perhaps it’s one of those films that deserves to be remade. Better direction and a tighter script might serve it well.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Sunshine’ Ain’t So Super, Man

Blog Sketch 082813Every so often when I see a movie, I get really, really disappointed that someone didn’t make it better.

That’s how I felt after viewing the Danny Boyle-directed Sunshine,  an ambitious sci-fi film that should’ve been excellent. It left me feeling dismayed at all the ticking clocks (the flick has something to do with a human space expedition to save our solar system’s dying sun, which seems to be capitulating at the very moment the picture is going on … a rather frustrating, action-movie-esque part of the plot), flashy cinematography and mumbled dialogue, despite the interesting story. We definitely need thoughtful, adventurous science-fiction films in our cinematic diet, so this one was especially problematic for me. A good idea that fell short.

I’m just wondering why director Boyle couldn’t have trusted the material more to avoid the pitfalls that race-against-time flicks often go through. There was a lot of breathlessness going ’round, and I would’ve preferred something more tranquil. Plus, the science seemed off … even to this completely unscientific movie critic. That’s an issue in science fiction, a genre in which a good movie achieves credibility however outlandish its foundations may be. In that regard, Sunshine left me cold.

Too bad. I wanted to like it. The flair, however, just wasn’t there.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: It’s ‘The World’s End’ as We Know It … Big Whoop

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Ever get the feeling while watching a movie that the actors enjoyed it a lot more than you?

That was exactly my response to The World’s End, the third in the “Cornetto” trilogy of silly, hyper-violent cinematic spoofs starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. (The previous two were Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.) I’m not a huge fan of the other films in this loose series, though they’re diverting enough on a rainy day when nothing else is on. The World’s End, however, felt more slapdash and cobbled together, as if the script – which has something to do with robotic aliens taking over the world as a stuck-in-the-’80s loser attempts to make a final, epic pub crawl with his now-grown-up buddies – was devised on the fly over brewskis. Ultimately, there were a lot fewer laughs in this flick than I hoped for, despite a strong cast (Martin Freeman plays one of the pals) and what was probably an immense amount of money spent on blue, extraterrestrial blood.

Part of the reason why I’m not a “Cornetto” series fan is the insistence on frustratingly kinetic editing that typifies many of the “action” scenes. I realize this is all part of the idea – that this is spoofery and it’s all very lighthearted – but it makes for dull viewing when done over and over again. And though I feel that Hot Fuzz is the best of the lot, I think they all smack of missed opportunities, as if too many jokes fell by the wayside. If you’re going to spoof something, go all the way, à la Airplane! or Blazing Saddles. I’m not sure what the creators of The World’s End were thinking, but there were some semi-serious moments that didn’t really work in such a wild and woolly context.

Once again, I’m in the minority on this; the Cornetto trilogy is a popular one, and I seem to be, oftentimes, at odds with popular cinematic taste. I stand by my perspective on The World’s End, though, with the end result being that on the whole, I’d rather have an ice cream than watch this movie again.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Musical Lines, Non-Parallel

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613We’re allowed to like great scores to mediocre movies, right?

I’m thinking about this as I ruminate on The Red Pony, Lewis Milestone’s 1949 film of John Steinbeck’s sad tale concerning a boy and his steed. The music, by Aaron Copland, is one of the American composer’s greatest compositions, yet it accompanies a picture that’s unfortunately just so-so.

I wish it were better.

Usually, it seems that the quality of a score reflects that of its film, but in The Red Pony‘s case, it doesn’t hold true. Frankly, I have no desire to see the film again … yet I often find myself humming the glorious, playful melodies and mulling the vibrant orchestration. Am I allowed to do this? I ask myself, half-serious. Am I able to like only one component of a full movie?

I have to answer yes, though I’m hesitant to do so. The cinema runs alongside music, and they’re often inextricable. Great directors generally know how to apply great scores by composers to celluloid, and many great composers have written for the screen. So what happened with The Red Pony? With a cast including Robert Mitchum and Myrna Loy, as well as Steinbeck’s writing chops, plus Copland’s lovely tunes, it should be a masterpiece.

It’s plodding, however, and the music is basically what saves it. Maybe this is one of the exceptions in the world of film: a picture that isn’t very good when all of the parts are added, despite one component being transcendent. At any rate, I’m glad we have this anomaly. I just hope I don’t encounter too many more.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: I Love You, Orson, But Really!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Ever see part of a movie so you never have to see any more of it again?

That’s what I did with Someone to Love, Henry Jaglom’s very, very (and I mean very) bad film about, basically, nothing and starring, of all people, Orson Welles and Sally Kellerman in poorly used roles. The story in part seemed to concern Jaglom’s character filming people talking about loneliness while contemplating their lives in an old Los Angeles theater, but instead of providing astute insights, it became a trying bore after only about 30 minutes. Poorly edited, too, with Welles interrupting the proceedings with strange reflections on the sexual revolution and the camera often focusing on irrelevant subjects before whisking itself away all too quickly and filming someone else.

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to turn it off.

I was wondering what Jaglom’s point was with all of this navel-gazing. There probably were interesting things to say, but they got swallowed up in a tempest of tedious talking. I’d never seen any of Jaglom’s other films, so perhaps I should’ve come prepared, but I still think a good movie should be accessible no matter where it falls in a director’s canon. And Someone to Love wasn’t.

This would definitely be in the “So Bad It’s Funny” category if I believed we should watch bad movies for laughs.

I don’t.