Monday, April 29, 2013

Best Picture: "All About Eve," 1950

Movie Stats:
Released 1950 (France & USA on the same day)
American, in English
Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars – Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm

Plot Summary:
Margo Channing (Davis) is the queen bee of the Broadway stage. One night, her best friend Karen (Holm) – wife of the playwright, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), who continues to cast Margo in his plays – invites a young woman named Eve Harrington (Baxter) backstage to meet Margo. At first, Eve seems fresh-faced, sweet, and naïve, but Margo soon begins to discover that there is something more sinister about the young woman and her motives. Merrill co-stars as Margo’s boyfriend, Bill Simpson.

Bad Stuff:
There were parts that I felt dragged on a bit too long, when I got bored and started surfing IMDB to read about the actors & what happened to them in their lives/careers after this movie.

For me, there was too much navel-gazing. This was one of those movies that I suspect I would have enjoyed so much more if I had ever been involved in the theater or in movie making. It felt like a movie made for people who’ve endured the cutthroat world of the backstage.

Good Stuff:
Lots of great, snappy dialogue. Even the husband, who was only half-watching, laughed out loud a couple of times.

Everyone raves about Davis’s performance in this, and I’m not saying the accolades aren’t deserved. She did a great job of making Margo likeable, even during times when she shouldn’t have been. However, I enjoyed Baxter’s performance even more. Also impressive were Thelma Ritter as Birdie, Margo’s maid (Or maybe assistant? It was never very clear), who had Eve’s number right from the start, and George Sanders as smarmy news reporter Addison DeWitt (whom you may recall as smarmy cousin Jack Favell in Rebecca).

The story is pretty masterful. Baxter’s performance is so nuanced that it would have been easy for me, the viewer, to be suckered by her in the beginning if I hadn’t read the blurb about the movie on the back of the DVD case. I liked that the story didn’t always go where I expected it to go. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when Bill turned out to be a better man than I’d anticipated. The ending felt a little heavy-handed, but it was still immensely entertaining.

The Verdict
This is kind of tough. It’s one of those movies that critics rave about. I feel like I should be raving about it too, but that’s not what I want to do.

I’d like to stress that I do not dislike this film in any way. In fact, I rather liked it, although I don’t imagine that I’ll want to watch it again any time soon. My main problem is that I spent the whole film feeling like I wasn’t the intended audience. As I said before, it felt like a movie made for other actors, and there was this winking “aren’t we so clever” air about it.

Is it possible for a movie to seem smug? I guess I’m positing here that it is. That smugness I sensed made it difficult for me to connect with this film the same way that a lot of critics seem to. While it’s a very good film, it’s not one I count amongst my favorites.

For that reason, I give this movie 3.75 stars.

6/11/14 - Upon further reflection, I decided to rase the rating of this movie to 4 stars. To find out more about why, click HERE.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Early Photoshop

When my mom passed away, one of the things I asked my brothers for was the wooden chest full of family pictures/memorabilia that she kept in the basement my whole life. Unfortunately, at the time, the husband and I didn’t have room in our apartment to store this large chest, so my oldest brother agreed to keep it at his house. Recently, however, he emptied out the chest, put everything into four boxes, and shipped them off to me.

So far, I’ve opened the two smaller boxes. I’ve already found all kinds of interesting things. Expect to see more of this turning up on my blog in the not-too-distant future. For now, though, I wanted to share this picture I found in “The Greybric,” my grandfather’s high school yearbook. The year was 1926 and my grandfather was a freshman.

I was looking through the clubs and sports in the back of the book to see if Grandpa F. had been involved in any of them. After a while, I realized that he probably wouldn’t have been since he was a freshman. Anyway, that’s how I stumbled across this picture of the Greybric staff:

"Maybe his head really was that big," said my husband, hahaha.

Check out the guy in the very center of the back row. Does he look a little “off” to you? Apparently, someone missed picture day. Or perhaps he was having a bad hair day. However, since he was probably the editor-in-chief, he didn’t want to be left out. So when the book went to print (I surmise), he cut out a picture of himself and inserted it into the group picture. Unfortunately, he seems to have had a bit of a sizing problem.

I find it oddly comforting that, lured by vanity, people engaged in photoshop even back in the day, and that they were just as bad at it back then as they are now.

In my house, we got a good chuckle out of it. I hope you do to.

Best Picture Interlude: Three Decades' Worth of Ratings

Now that I’ve finished three decades of Best Picture winners, I thought it would be fun to do a little “round up” of how I’ve rated the movies. (I like to organize, so shoot me.) I’ve grouped them by decade, from least favorite to favorite.

2. The Broadway Melody – 2.5 stars
1. Wings – 3 stars

10. The Great Ziegfield – 1.5 stars
9. Mutiny on the Bounty – 2 stars
8. Cimarron – 2.5 stars
7. Cavalcade – 2.5 stars
6. You Can’t Take It with You – 3 stars
5. All Quiet on the Western Front – 3 stars
4. Grand Hotel – 3.5 stars
3. The Life of Emile Zola – 3.5 stars
2. It Happened One Night – 4 stars
1. Gone with the Wind – 4.25 stars

10. How Green Was My Valley – 2.75 stars
9. Hamlet – 3 stars
8. Mrs. Miniver – 3 stars
7. Rebecca – 3.25 stars
6. Gentleman’s Agreement – 3.75 stars
5. Going My Way – 4 stars
4. The Lost Weekend – 4 stars
3. The Best Years of Our Lives – 4 stars
2. All the King’s Men – 4.25 stars
1. Casablanca – 5 stars

As you can see, the 1940s rated pretty high. Seriously, it was a great decade for movies. I’m looking forward to the 1950s, though. I’ve only seen two of them before, so a lot of it is going to be new ground for me. I already have 1950 in my hot little hands, so expect to see a review of it in the next few days.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Best Picture: "All the King's Men," 1949

Movie Stats:
Released 1949 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Robert Rossen
Stars – Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru

Plot Summary:
The movie chronicles the meteoric rise (and spectacular fall) of Willie Stark (Crawford) from naïve, good-hearted country bumpkin running for county treasurer to corrupt, black-hearted governor. Ireland stars as reporter-turned-hatchet man Jack Burden & Dru as Jack’s love interest, Anne Stanton.

Bad Stuff:
Although the running time comes in at just under two hours, it honestly felt longer.

While certainly not the most reprehensible character in the film, I found Anne to be incredibly annoying. I suspect that this had more to do with Dru’s portrayal of her than the character herself. I simply believe she didn’t do a very good job.

Good Stuff:
I really enjoyed pretty much everybody else’s performances, especially Crawford’s and Mercedes McCambridge’s (Stark’s campaign manager, Sadie Burke). I wasn’t surprised to learn that both of them won Oscars.

Politics really hasn’t changed in the slightest, has it? In a way, it’s almost comforting to know that things are as they always have been and probably always will be. I thought the movie was very well written & believable. It’s based on a book, and I see that the author of that book shares a writing credit for the movie, so I’m guessing that the excellent story is due to the fact that it stayed close to the original work.

The movie does such a good job of evolving Stark’s character that you forget why you ever liked him in the first place. That’s simply good plot, good pacing, and good acting.

The Verdict:
I really liked it. I don’t imagine that this is a movie that people watch over and over again. It’s not enjoyable in that fun kind of way. Most of the characters are deeply, fundamentally flawed. But it’s a good story with an important message. Everyone should see it at least once. I give this movie 4.25 stars.

Bonus Movie Fun Fact: I spent the whole movie thinking that Crawford sounded a lot like John Wayne, only to discover the part was originally offered to Wayne. He turned it down because he felt the script was “unpatriotic.”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve

I'm a little reluctant to post about Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve in Plano because I love it so much. I went there yesterday for an absolutely glorious 2-hour walk/hike. While I was, by no means, the only person there, it was surprisingly uncrowded. So I don't know that it's smart to give away the secret of this little gem, but I suppose it's the right thing to do. If you live in DFW or are visiting, you should definitely check out this park.

This sign is at the entrance on Los Rios Blvd.

I was amused by this encouraging piece of "graffiti"
on the path leading down to the lake.

If you enter the park at Los Rios Blvd., as I did, the curving paved path leads you down to a lovely little lake. There is a paved walking/biking path that leads around the lake. According to the map at the beginning of the trail, the loop covers .88 miles.

You can branch off from the lake loop to follow the paved path that leads around the equestrian field. That's right, in addition to hiking/biking/roller skating, you can ride a horse there, if you're so inclined. There are also several "off road" (read: unpaved) trails, including one that leads across an open meadow. The trees below mark the start of that trail.

I think these were pretty much the only trees
at the park that weren't in bloom.

I chose instead to follow an unpaved trail that followed Rowlett Creek. I was given several opportunities to deviate from the Rowlett Creek Trail, but chose to stick with it, since I fully intend to go back to the park at another date & can explore more of the trails then.

Rowlett Creek

More Rowlett Creek

While I'd seen a handful of people on the paved paths, during my trip along the Rowlett Creek Trail I came across only two other people (a couple). It was both very beautiful and very peaceful.

I was bemused to find a rope swing (pictured above), as I doubt the creek ever runs deep enough to allow for safe jumping.

Here's a shot of the creek by the rope swing.
See, not deep enough for jumping.

I tried to get close enough to the creek to touch at the spot pictured above, but the rocks were too slippery. Oh well.

Apparently, I didn't do a very good job of reading the map at the park entrance because the Rowlett Creek Trail eventually dumped me out onto Jupiter Road, about a mile from the park entrance. I could have gone back the way I came, but it seemed longer, so I walked back along the road (which had sidewalk most of the way). I didn't mind, though, and actually returned to the park to complete the path around the lake before going home.

I can't say enough good things about this park. It was a great way to spend a fantastic morning.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Best Picture: "Hamlet," 1948

Movie Stats:
Released 1948 (UK)
British, in English
Director – Laurence Olivier
Stars – Laurence Olivier, Basil Sydney, and Eileen Herlie

Plot Summary:
Danish prince Hamlet’s (Olivier) father, the King, dies suddenly. After his uncle Claudius (Sydney) seizes the throne and marries Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Herlie), Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father, who reveals that his death was the result of murder. Hamlet seeks his revenge, destroying pretty much everyone in the process.

Bad Stuff:
I don’t like this story. I never have. I’ve read the play, and I’ve seen several film adaptations. That doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t like it. I much prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies, but this is probably my least favorite of his tragedies. I just think the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; I never understood why Hamlet had to destroy everything just to get back at the murderers. Perhaps, dear reader, if you have some insight into this, you can share it with me.

My least favorite part of Hamlet, by far, is Ophelia’s story line (If Hamlet loves her so much, why is he such an a-hole to her?). I thought it was handled atrociously in this film, and Jean Simmons was absolutely awful in the part. I was thrilled when the character [SPOILER] finally died so I didn’t have to listen to Simmons’s screeching any longer.

Good Stuff:
I liked the costumes, although I suspect they weren’t exactly historically accurate. I also liked the sets.

The special effects were surprisingly good, especially the ghost of Hamlet’s father, which was very creepy.

Olivier was great as Hamlet, although he was too old for the part, which I found distracting. Even more distracting was that the actress who played his mother was ten years younger than him, and it was definitely noticeable.

The Verdict:
It’s difficult to judge a movie that’s based upon a play I don’t like. It’s not an original screenplay, so it’s not exactly the movie’s fault that I don’t like it. I thought it did a decent enough job with the material. If it came down to it, I’d rather watch this movie again than all of the Best Picture winners I’ve rated in the 1s and 2s.

For that reason, I give this movie 3 stars.