Category Archives: drama

Game of Chairs

Another pop culture post (I’ll get back to the cooking soon, I swear!). My current obsession is Game of Thrones. It’s medieval politics, sex, and violence with a soupçon of fantasy thrown. Really good acting, high production values, and a compelling story. I’m hooked.

Season 3 is airing. Don’t click or read any more if you’d rather not be spoiled.

This gem of a scene encapsulates what I love so much about this show.

Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is holding a meeting of the Small Council. There’s a king who could attend if he wanted, but he doesn’t generally. These are the people who make the decisions in his name.  For nearly two minutes, there’s no dialogue. Who wants to sit where; how each person gets to where they are sitting; and why they want to sit where tells us everything we need to know.

Unexpected gems

A work colleague loaned me her copy of Eve’s Bayou. Somehow I missed this when it made its debut in movie theaters back in 1997. Although, I suspect I wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much as I did now.

Set in a bayou in Louisiana, it’s about one particular summer in the life of a wealthy family who have several issues come to fore in a suitably dramatic manner. Gothic but not unduly so. Great cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, and a young actress named Jurnee Smollett.

The family and the rest of the characters are all African-American, but race never plays any kind of a role in the movie–and it shouldn’t. That’s not what the movie is about. It’s almost a coming-of-age story.

Also caught Transamerica with Felicity Huffman and Kevin Zegers. Didn’t have the highest expectations of it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Huffman plays a transgendered individual about to have surgery to become a female, who discovers that she’s got a son (Zegers). Zegers has some problems and is looking for his dad to get him out of jail.

Delicate subject matter, but it was handled really well. Funny and touching movie. Huffman managed to convince me that she was a transgendered man–hard task to accomplish.

Fallen Angel

Got Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel through Netflix this weekend. It’s very much a noir film. Dana Andrews is some sort of grifter who finds himself in a small town simply because he runs out of bus fare. Unfortunately for him, the diner he lands in turns out to have a classic femme fatale of a waitress (played by Linda Darnell). Darnell has a cadre of devoted gentlemen friends including Bruce Cabot, Percy Kilbride (of Ma and Pa Kettle fame), and my personal favorite, the always excellent Charles Bickford.

Darnell seems unimpressed by all her suitors. She wants a ring and nothing else will do. Dana Andrews gets the idea to marry rich Alice Faye. It all goes downhill from there.

Wonderful cast, incredible atmosphere, Fallen Angel is really worth acquiring or renting.

Meanwhile, I’m seriously thinking about adding every film I can find with Charles Bickford to my Netflix queue, because I’ve yet to see a bad performance from him.

The Queen and the MPAA

Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I just saw two movies of note.

Finally saw The Queen with the amazing Helen Mirren. The Queen of the title is the very much living Elizabeth II. The film centers around the events following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s a quiet film really. The reason I would suggest everyone run and rent this is because of the astonishingly powerful performance of Helen Mirren. The filmmakers wisely chose to focus on a couple of the members of the Royal Family. They also cleverly used news footage of Diana in a montage fashion that was very effective. Well worth seeing.

This Film is Not Yet Rated is a totally different kind of film. After the death of the Production Code, the MPAA was formed. This is the body that determines what rating a film gets.

Which I have to admit is an issue I haven’t paid much attention to. I’m over 17 and I don’t have kids. I can’t remember the last time I actually noticed what rating a film got. As a lot of the filmmakers interviewed in this documentary explain, a rating can determine how much money the film makes or what type of audience sees their movie. The wrong rating can, in short, be the kiss of death.

So who are the people who rate the movies? What is their process? What are their specific decisions?

No one really knew – at least until this documentary.

And really, even after this documentary, it still seems like the Vatican is a more transparent and accountable organization than the MPAA. Which is my chief objection to it. I am not opposed to a ratings system. Frankly, I think there’s a place for it in America today. What I do object to is that this organization operates like a Star Chamber. There is no reason why the raters at the MPAA need to be anonymous. Nor should it be unaccountable.

And it is.

Wonderfully miscast soaper

So I had recorded Not as a Stranger under the mistaken idea that it was a thriller. Last time I rely on the TCM schedule for a film description: ” A medical student will stop at nothing to become a top surgeon.”

Robert Mitchum is a medical student– poor medical student (Lon Chaney, Jr. has a cameo as his drunken father). His best friend, privileged rich kid, Frank Sinatra, is in med school because it’s expected of him and also for the cash. So’s Lee Marvin. Yeah, that’s right. Lee Marvin. Broderick Crawford and Whit Bissell are profs. It’s a strange strange class. And the writer at TCM had the same thought. Last time I saw Whit Bissell and Lee Marvin together was in the godawful, but oddly engrossing Shack Out on 101.

After Dad drinks up Mitchum’s tuition money, he looks to alternative sources. While dropping out for a semester (Broderick Crawford’s suggestion) and getting a job to get the money is too heinous to be considered, marrying Swedish nurse Olivia de Havilland for her money is not. That’s okay. Sure, Mitchum doesn’t love her. Sure he looks down on her, even though she seems to be a very competent nurse. Sure she has goofy relatives–okay that I buy–Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter of M*A*S*H) playing a Swede would turn me off too. But hey, Mitchum was meant to be a doctor.

And he becomes a doctor. He heads out for one of those small towns that manages to appear to be a small city (gotta love Hollywood) where he works under crusty Charles Bickford’s supervision. Okay, I love Charles Bickford. It was worth sitting through the first half of the movie just to see him do his stuff. He’s working round the clock, helping people, being the noble doctor, pretending to love his long-suffering wife, when into his life slinks Gloria Grahame; she takes one look at hunky Mitchum and makes the expected play for him.

You can see why I thought this was a thriller with noirish influences (Mitchum, Grahame, Bickford, Sinatra). This was Stanley Kramer’s first directorial effort. I’m not sure who did the casting, but evidently they were either insane or intoxicated. It’s an odd, odd, mess of a film. Unless you have a burning desire to see Olivia de Havilland and Harry Morgan as Swedes, I’d suggest giving this one a miss.

Music and Murder

Picked up two movies from a discount bin a couple of weekends ago. Totally different types of films too.

Mad Hot Ballroom is a charming if light documentary about a program that incorporates ballroom dancing into elementary schools. It’s a neat idea in and of itself. The filmmakers follow three different schools as they prepare for a final citywide competition. A lot of the reviews were critical about the focus on the competition in lieu of focus on the children. I can see the point. This is not a hard-hitting documentary and I have to wonder if the filmmakers made a conscious choice to go this way. It probably was more marketable if only because it had a recognizable/Hollywoodesque plot. It is still worth seeing, however.

On the other end of the spectrum was Capote. The focus of the film is on Truman Capote’s research into the Clutter murders (two ex-cons broke into a Kansas farm house in the erroneous belief there was money and brutally murdered an entire family) that eventually became his “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood. Capote is masterfully portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, which seems like weird casting. Hoffman is a stocky 5’9′; Capote was 5’3.” But he nails it. Catherine Keener plays Harper Lee and in a throwaway role, Chris Cooper is the local state police chief.

It’s a thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing movie. Capote feels drawn to one of the killers (Clifton Collins Jr.) whose life has marked parallels to his own. Nonetheless as he pours literally years into writing the book, he comes to realize that for a successful ending, he needs the killers to die.

House of Cards

House of Cards is one of those films that I’’ve seen bits and pieces of over the years. I finally had the chance to see the whole thing. By the way, lest anyone be confused, this is the Kathleen Turner/Tommy Lee Jones movie, not the wonderful miniseries with Ian Richardson.

Turner’’s archaeologist husband falls to his death in Mexico. A shaman tells
Turner’’s youngest child, Sally that her father has gone to the moon. So Ruth (Katheen Turner) and her two children move back to the States whereupon Sally begins to display autistic symptoms. Ruth refuses to admit there’’s a problem, but as the situation worsens, a psychiatrist played by Tommy Lee Jones is called in. Still adamant that there is nothing wrong that mother love cannot fix, Ruth tries to reach her daughter another way. And succeeds.

The good folks who’’ve written reviews at IMDB are divided on the subject. I have to say both Ruth and the message of the film ticked me off. There seems to be debate about whether or not Sally had autism; some argue that it’s a vision quest.

I don’’t think that’s the point. There are two big problems with this film. The first is that the brilliance displayed by the children with pervasive developmental disorders is glorified by Ruth. Although the psychiatrist character makes an excellent case for normalcy, Ruth never does accept it, which is not only annoying, but a flaw in the script. The second is the ending, which strongly suggests that hey, it is possible to reach these kids through mystical means. That may be an understandable emotional response, but it’’s also dangerously deceptive.

Bits and Pieces

There are some movies that I’m doomed never to see in their entirety or in sequence. I keep seeing bits and pieces of Swimming Pool, which unfortunately seems to be one of those films where you really need to see the whole thing–in one sitting. Not a great movie by any means, but oddly haunting. I’m still not certain that I understand it.

Also caught a chunk of Heavenly Creatures. It was so fascinating that I finally did the smart thing. Looked it up and then made a point to see it the whole way through. The story was based on the Parker/Hulme murder and was directed by none other than Peter Jackson. Some really nice performances throughout, visually haunting, and an overall good plot made this well worth my time and effort to see it in sequence.

Good Performance, Bad Movie

Purchased a used dvd of
Owning Mahowny at the friendly neighborhood supermarket for $5 on the principle that it would cost me about that just to rent it. Decent cast really: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Hurt, and Minnie Driver. It’s based on the true story of a Toronto banker who managed to embezzled millions of dollars from his place of employment in order to finance his gambling addiction.

The acting isn’t the problem. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of those actors who always turns in an excellent performance; John Hurt can do no wrong in my book; and Minnie Driver, while not at that level of talent, is very good at what she does.

The difficulty is that this is a less than gripping film. The plot just isn’t . . . well to quote Gertrude Stein, “there’s no there there.”