Wednesday, July 07, 2010

How a movie buff spends the 4th of July

Over the long holiday weekend I watched a quartet of movies, some of which were very appropriate Independence Day viewing, and one of which was more than a little ironic Independence Day viewing,.

American Madness: I finally caught up with this early Frank Capra picture, the only one I hadn't seen from a DVD box set containing many of the director's gems. It stars Walter Huston as a scrupulously honest bank president who is overwhelmed when the bank is robbed and customers jam the lobby trying to withdraw their money. It's a very underrated little gem, which packs quite a lot of power into 76 lean minutes. One can see prototypes of Capra themes, including some very strong foreshadowing of It's a Wonderful Life. GRADE: A

Sidenote: The DVD box set contains an outstanding feature-length documentary called Frank Capra's American Dream, with interviews ranging from Martin Scorsese to Robert Altman to Oliver Stone. And it's hosted and narrated by the director whose work most strongly resembles Capra, Ron Howard. Well worth seeking out.

The Music Man: The movie musical started to fall out of fashion in the 60s, but this particular entry is one of the best of a decade that presented one bloated epic after another. It feels a little long at times, but Robert Preston's Energizer-bunny performance as Harold Hill more than makes up for any lulls. He's an absolute wonder; it's a crime he wasn't Oscar nominated. Meredith Wilson's songs must cram in more syllables per minute than any other legendary Broadway show. Ye gods! Fun movie geek trivia - the cinematographer was Robert Burks, who shot many of Hitchcock's best-known works, including Vertigo and To Catch a Thief. In fact, the movie he shot immediately after this one was The Birds. How's THAT for a segue? GRADE: A 

Only Angels Have Wings: Slightly lesser Howard Hawks, which is to say it's really quite good if not quite excellent. The story, which details the trials of a ragtag group of pilots who fly dangerous missions, veers too often from its best asset: the romance between Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, who was adorable in every movie she made. Even so, it benefits from outstanding aerial photography and a great ensemble. It's a bracine reminder none of us will ever be as fortunate as Grant, who gets to romance both Arthur and Rita Hayworth. Great problem to have. GRADE: B+

Reds: File under Fourth of July viewing, Ironic. Warren Beatty's 1981 epic about John Reed and Louise Bryant being swept up in the Russian Revolution, is ambitious to a fault. While the actor/co-writer/director's passion is undeniable, he bites off more than he can chew, trying to David Lean, Elia Kazan and Woody Allen all at once. The sprawling epic loses focus and momentum too often, but it has individual moments that are very powerful, and his tactic of interviewing real-life witnesses, and interspersing them throughout the film. was a masterstroke. As I have said before, I would much rather watch a film that tries too hard, than one that does not try hard enough. GRADE: B+

No comments: