Monthly Archives: October 2016
Haven’t you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just… catch something out of the corner of your eye?
Every fan of The Haunting has at least one story about seeing it, and often more than one. Here’s one of mine:
Years ago, G (my now husband) and I went to see it on a triple bill at an old movie palace in downtown Los Angeles. The college kids sitting behind us mocked it at first: old-fashioned, black-and-white, Julie Harris’s oddball whispered voiceovers.
But then, as the film went on, they got quieter and quieter. Finally, about half an hour in, one of them turned to the other and whispered, “Is it just me, or is this movie kind of getting to you?” And then they shut up for the rest of the film.
That’s the kind of horror movie The Haunting is. It’s not a slam-bang special effects spectacle, or a gross-out endurance test. It sneaks up behind you and lays a cold hand on your neck, whispering to you, asking if you’re sure you know what that noise in the dark was that you just heard.
A quick technical note before we begin: when you see the film, make sure you get a letterboxed copy and not one of the older pan-and-scans. You will literally miss out on half the movie if you don’t get the full widescreen version.
All right, kiddies, gather ’round and Auntie Mnemo will tell you a ghost story just in time for Halloween. You have three black-and-white classics to choose from that will have you sleeping with the lights on for a week.
The first and earliest of our films is the 1944 classic, The Uninvited. This has Ray Milland in hero mode, as he and his sister try to puzzle out why something in the house they just bought seems to be trying to kill their new neighbor, with whom Milland has fallen in love. It has a terrific cast and, unlike the other two options, manages to have both a surprise plot twist and a happy ending.
The second one is the creepy classic The Innocents (1961), starring Deborah Kerr as a repressed nanny who may — or may not — be dealing with a case of ghostly possession in her unsettling new charges.
The third one is a film that I don’t mind saying is one of my all-time favorites: Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). This is another film where it’s not quite clear whether the haunting is real or a figment of the main character’s imagination, until … well, you’ll have to choose the film to find out. Wise learned his craft at the knee of producer Val Lewton, and he pulls out all of Lewton’s tricks to make this a truly chilling movie.
This poll will only be open for a short time so I can have my essay posted by Saturday morning (i.e. a few days before Halloween), so make sure you vote prior to Wednesday night. Links to the trailers for each film are embedded in the poll, but if I may make a suggestion … make sure to watch them with the lights on.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have a weakness for Hollywood iconoclasts, and Preston Sturges was one of the biggest iconoclasts of the old studio system. Like Ernst Lubitsch, Sturges was allowed to put themes and scenes into his films that few other directors or writers had the freedom to do; of Sturges’ The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), where Betty Hutton’s character is impregnated by a mystery man after a night of drunken revels and goes on to birth sextuplets, film critic James Agee famously said “the Hays office must have been raped in its sleep” to have allowed such risqué content.
Unfaithfully Yours is a bit like that — it has scenes that you won’t see in any other Hollywood film of the era, because no one else would have been allowed to film those scenes. Was Sturges a drinking buddy of Joe Breen’s? Did his writing seem innocuous on the page but play very differently in front of the cameras? Did his bosses tell Breen to lay off because Sturges was making pots of money for them? Nobody knows, but we’re all happy he managed it.
I filed this under “dark comedies” because, make no mistake, this film is dark. Hot-tempered conductor Sir Alfred de Carter (Rex Harrison) becomes convinced that his much younger wife (Linda Darnell) is cheating on him and, during a concert, he imagines three different scenarios for how he’s going to handle the situation, only to have each of them go hilariously awry when he tries to put them into practice in real life. Read the rest of this entry
By two votes, the winner for Classic Dark Comedies is Unfaithfully Yours (1948)! I think you guys are going to love this movie as much as I do. You can rent it from Amazon or Google Play for $2.99, or you may be able to borrow it from your local library.
I’m going to do my best to have my essay posted by Friday morning, assuming I can shake off this lingering cold. Maybe what I need is a nice hot bath …
New York Times has failed as a newspaper this election season. The big scoops about Trump are coming from Washington Post and Newsweek, while the hometown newspaper is asleep at the switch. Even today, NYT is on the both-sides-do-it wagon soft pedaling of Trump’s hate and bigotry. It happened after the immigration speech and it happened again this morning. Their headline this morning reads:
Bitter, Personal Tone Marks 2nd Trump Clinton Debate
Sounds like a bickering match of he said, she said with both parties equally to blame doesn’t it? That’s not what I saw, this is what I saw when I made myself watch yesterday’s debate.
* Trump stalked Hillary Clinton throughout the debate
* Said bragging about sexual assault is OK because ISIS
* He had no clue about what he was talking about be it Syria or healthcare or Russia.
* He admitted as much in so many words about Russia
* He wants give Putin a complete free rein in Syria and elsewhere
* He promised to jail Hillary Clinton like his idol Putin does to his political opponents
* Tried to relitigate Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a negative against Hillary
*Repeated what do black people have to lose by voting for him, line
*Demonized ordinary Muslim citizens and Syrian refugees fleeing war
*Called Hillary Clinton, the devil
*Did not answer a single question, just repeated his fact-free bilious stump speech replete with conspiracy theories
Compared to the toddler tantrum that Trump threw on the debate stage for an hour and half, Hillary Clinton was a model of restraint and civility. She has nerves of steel, I was sputtering with rage at Trump’s indecent and ignorant behavior in my living room. No matter how low Trump goes, New York Times normalizes his behavior and enables him. Paper of record, indeed.
* Thanks to chech 1965 for letting me use his lol.
With the current election season fully upon us, I’m feeling like we all need a laugh, but a simple escapist movie just won’t do. So I’m proposing one of these three comedy classics:
Unfaithfully Yours (1948)
This is the good Preston Sturges version, not the crappy remake with Dudley Moore. If you’ve never seen a Sturges film, he was able to walk the line between comedy and tragedy better than anyone else in classic Hollywood, and he seemed to consider the Production Code to be a series of suggestions, not something he needed to take seriously.
Unfaithfully Yours is a comedic film noir that centers around Rex Harrison’s character becoming convinced that his much younger wife, played by Linda Darnell, is being unfaithful to him. He imagines three different scenarios of how he will get revenge on her for this and, being Sturges, it all goes wrong in the funniest possible way, and even manages a heartfelt happy ending. You’ll be a little shocked at just how dark it gets, but that only makes the subsequent pratfalls funnier.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
Another film that was so good that they decided to make a crappy remake in the 1980s, though at least Mel Brooks’ attempt included a scene where he and Anne Bancroft sing “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish.
If you’ve never seen an Ernst Lubitsch film, you’ll see why his name is still an adjective to this day, usually to explain why someone’s effort fell short of being quite as good as the man who had “the Lubitsch touch.” He manages to make the Nazi invasion of Poland into a classic comedy that also has almost unbearable moments of tension, as when Carole Lombard realizes that she’s trapped in Gestapo headquarters with no way to escape. You won’t think that you’ll find “So they call me ‘Concentration Camp Ehrhardt’?” to be funnier every time it’s repeated, but you will.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
By request! At first, it may look like this doesn’t fit with the other two since it’s an original film, but it’s really a loving parody of the first three Frankenstein films made by Universal Pictures in the 1930s: Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Even the trailer is done in the period style (though you may recognize the voice of the narrator). It’s funny in and of itself, but it’s even funnier if you’ve seen the three Universal films, because you can see how Gene Wilder brings bits of Basil Rathbone and Colin Clive into his performance as Dr. Frederick Fronkensteen … er, Frankenstein.
The original trailer for each film is linked in the title, so feel free to watch before deciding. Vote early, vote often!
Welcome to the second edition of the Weekend Movie Club. Queen won the poll by a wide margin. If you haven’t seen it yet it is available on Google Play and iTunes for streaming.
I loved Queen the first time I saw it and I enjoyed it even more the second time around to do this review.
Spoiler Alert: Avert your eyes if you don’t want to be spoiled.
When we first meet Rani (Queen) her wedding preparations are in full swing. It’s day of the mehendi (henna) ceremony, a day before the actual wedding. Rani is full of verve and spirit and has a family that dotes on her and she is getting married to Vijay. A perennially popular name for a Hindi movie hero. What can possibly go wrong?
Plenty, we soon find out. When the London-returned Vijay makes his first appearance, we find that he is no prize. He wants to call off the wedding because he considers Rani gauche and no longer cool enough for his fancy self. We see Rani crumple before our very eyes, her freshly applied mehendi flaking off as she nervously clutches her phone. As she returns home crestfallen with her chaperone and younger brother Chintu, hugging herself, clutching her sweater, you just want to give her a hug.
Pay close attention to both the mehendi and the ugly sweater (her security blanket) she is wearing, they are a guide to Rani’s evolution throughout the movie.
After moping for what might have been and a pep talk by grandma, Rani decides that she wants to go on alone her honeymoon to Europe. Thus begins Rani’s journey from Delhi to Paris to Amsterdam and back again to Delhi.
When she leaves for Paris she is still sad about being dumped, but through subsequent epiphanies at pivotal moments, she discovers her own strength and recognizes Vijay for the controlling cad that he is. But enough about Vijay, the movie is about Rani and how she discovers her mojo, her spirit which was always there. Even when she was being chaperoned on dates by her younger sibling and bullied by her fiancé’.
In Paris, Vijaylakshmi the lanky half-Indian hotel maid takes her under wing. Initially, Rani is shocked and scandalized by Vijaylakshmi devil-may-care attitude compared to her own uptight conservative upbringing. However, she is non-judgmental and open to new experiences and ideas and accepting of people for who they are. At the Paris night club when the drunk Rani loses her sweater and lets her hair down to the tune of Asha Bhonsale’s 1970s hit, Hungama, it’s a sight to behold! Though Rani and Vijaylaksmi are nothing alike on the surface, they form a close bond.
When she heads to Amsterdam on a train to a Youth Hostel, it’s a different Rani than the one that landed in Paris. Initially she is freaked out at the idea of having to share a room with three strange guys in a youth hostel. However, they win her over with their humanity and understanding of where she is coming from, something she never experienced with her clueless fiancé.
Rani soaks up the experience, takes up new challenges, sometimes makes an ass of herself, aces a challenge with flying colors. For the very first time in her sheltered life, she experiences freedom and finds it exhilarating. So when Vijay shows up in Amsterdam to make amends, she is ready. She no longer wilts at his criticism but stands up for herself and does not let him destroy what remains of her vacation. She will deal with him when she gets back to Delhi and deal with him she does!
Kangana is Rani, she makes Queen, utterly believable and real. Her National Award for acting in 2014 for Queen was well deserved. She imbues Rani with grace and character even in her most vulnerable moments. Rani’s transformation from a diffident and shy young woman to a confident person who knows her mind happens before our very eyes. Kangana’s Rani is immensely likeable and vulnerable and makes you want to root for her. We share her enthusiasm, cheer her small victories, feel for her when she is at the receiving end of Vijay’s clueless male privilege. Kangana Ranaut is a revelation as Queen. The supporting cast was memorable too, starting with her family, her grandma, parents and Chintu felt like a close knit Punjabi family. As for the three guys she befriends on her journey, together with they reminded me of the United Colors of Benetton. Lisa Haydon as Vijaylakshmi stood out for me, tall and willowy and charming, she was Rani’s very own fairy godmother.
I liked Vikas Bahl’s little directorial touches, like the motif of the fading mehendi and Rani’s ugly sweater. As she becomes more confident and the mehendi fades, she no longer needs her security blanket. Even the change in Rani’s wardrobe is subtle, she still sticks to long skirts and kurtas. Its more daring than before but Rani is never going to be another Vijaylakshmi, she just going to be the best Rani that she can be!
One of the reasons that this movie resonated with me was that I have known many Ranis IRL, who unquestioningly accept the unspoken mores of the society they live in. Shackled by tradition that expects women to put up with men who belittle them. Unlike the stereotypical Hindi movie leading lady, Rani realizes that there is more to her life than a man. She doesn’t waste away pining for a man who clearly doesn’t deserve her, she goes ahead and lives her life. You go girl!
Credits: From IMDB
P.S. If you missed our first outing, check it out and stayed tuned for a poll of classic comedies to be reviewed next by the insufferable movie snob. Suggestions and questions welcome as always.