Kitty Foyle

Kitty Foyle

We’ll always be alone… as long as we’re together.

The name Ginger Rogers strikes up a lot of feelings in a lot of classic movie lovers, myself included. For most, they think of the string of films she made with Fred Astaire, and how beloved a movie pairing the two were as they danced and fell in love over and over… For me, I remember them dancing of course, but that was about it; I’ve made no secret that the pairing of Astaire/Rogers didn’t have quite the magic feel to me that it did for a large chunk of moviegoers, past and present. 1937’s Stage Door did a little bit to improve the standing of Rogers in my head, but aside from a supporting turn in that film, I didn’t have any real experience with Rogers as a solo act. Now, there’s Kitty Foyle, which not only clearly starred Rogers, but had her front and center for virtually the entire film. Now, having seen it, I appreciate Rogers a lot more than I used to; I don’t know if I can say I’m a fan of her proper now, but there’s a lot more to her than just being the prime piece of arm candy that Fred Astaire toted around.

Rogers is the titular Kitty Foyle, a young to-do girl from Philadelphia looking to make her way in the world with the typical stars in her eyes while she does so. In this case, those stars happen to eventually land on Wyn Strafford, a well-off inheritor who just as quickly falls for Kitty as she does him. Only problem is that she, as they put it, lives on the wrong street from Wyn, meaning that Wyn would be marrying below his social status if he were to take Kitty as his bride, and the will-they-or-won’t-they of Wyn and Kitty is complicated further when she moves to New York and ends up roped into a date or two with Mark, a doctor and another would-be groom. As much as it would seem to lower the state of Kitty Foyle the film by saying there’s really not much more to it than the love triangle at its center, there really isn’t; that and the characterization of Kitty by Ginger Rogers are really the only two reasons to watch this, and seeing as how this was made after the Hays Code, there’s very little suspense as to how the love triangle will turn out, especially given some of the other aspects and turns of the plot I haven’t outlined. So, that leaves us with Rogers, who actually does quite a good job in making Kitty headstrong and willful, while still keeping her eyes filled with stars, so to speak. Besides Rogers, director Sam Wood got an Oscar nomination for Best Director for this film, and I can imagine he wrangled that nom for how he staged the recurring framing device of the film, which worked well enough even if it was a tad relentless with how recurring it was. Still, it seemed like Wood hadn’t really done enough to see his nomination through to a win, which he didn’t, and I agree with the Academy in this particular case.

Rogers ended up winning the Oscar for Best Actress for this film, and while I’m not ranking the acting nominations as of yet, I can see why they went with her (though I can’t say for certain until I’ve seen the other nominees for this year; Bette Davis is in this particular race, after all); she does a good enough job, and pretty much handles the entire film by herself, so the Academy felt it fitting to gift her some gold for it, and I won’t hang them up too high for doing so. This was also, however, nominated for Best Picture, and while I enjoyed the film even despite it having so few real selling points, I can’t really say that this Best Picture nomination came about for any reason other than the Academy couldn’t seem to find enough nominees to fill out the roster. Kitty Foyle works, largely because of Rogers, but it doesn’t do enough to be called the best picture of its year, though I will say that even despite my not getting to the film for a little while, I got through the viewing of it with very little problem or apprehension once I started it, so there’s a bit of a good note to end this on.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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All This, and Heaven Too

All This and Heaven Too

I live in fear of the day where I shall be driven to do something desperate.

Man, you really can’t go wrong with Bette Davis; the you, in this case, being myself. I’ve been a Bette Davis fan ever since I first saw one of the pictures she starred in, and she hasn’t disappointed whenever I’ve seen her on screen. That being said, that’s not to say that every film that Davis has starred in is altogether a worthwhile one. Here, we have All This and Heaven Too, which was apparently the Warner Studio’s answer to Gone With the Wind, a lengthy melodrama set in a bygone era, although much of the production value of the previous year’s Best Picture winner is absent here, so the comparison is somewhat limited in that regard. Still, while Warner might have failed in his regard to bring another GWTW to the screen and to his company, there are some things to like about this, his effort, even if that list ends up being a smidge shorter than one would’ve likely wanted.

Here, Davis is Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, now a schoolteacher in the framing device of the film, where she finds out the students she has been assigned to have no respect or liking to her because of her odious past, printed in scandalous newspaper articles the students are all familiar with. Resolving to clear the air, she enters the film into flashback to tell her story: how she was once a governess to the children of the Duke de Praslin, a French nobleman, and how his wife, the Duchess, and her erratic and paranoid behavior regarding the Duke and Henriette eventually leads the family to heartbreak and scandal. I do find it a little amusing that the film can be so succinctly summarized in the way that I have, considering that the film is basically all story and very little else. We follow Davis as she comes to the household, gradually wins over the affections of the children over their domineering and possibly insane mother, and how the Duke himself comes to regard her as the ‘lost soul’ he’d been waiting to find. Here’s the thing, though; the studio, or the producers, or perhaps the director (or a combination of these), were all so consumed with making this as grand a picture as they could’ve, that it failed to cross their minds whether or not the picture itself would’ve been better off had some decisions been made in other ways. Case in point: the film is two hours and twenty minutes long, and it feels as long as its running time, which suggests to me that the film could’ve done with some trimming to make it more accessible and not such a timesink. The film also gets a touch into the melodramatic in the second act, as it is basically required to, and this melodrama is revisited slightly in the climax of the film, and though it was probably a decision of the times to make it as melodramatic as it ends up being, it unfortunately means the film has not aged all that well, save for the performance of Davis, who barely holds the film together (Charles Boyer, who plays the Duke, is also deserving of some commendation as well).

All This and Heaven Too is a decent enough film, but therein lies the trap that it fails to avoid: it, like so many other Best Picture nominees in the years prior, is only good enough. It ends up being a film that I appreciate more than I actually like or was entertained by, which could be enough to be nominated for this award or, in some years, even win, but not in the still-early years of the Academy such as this. It also unfortunately left me with too little to say about it, which is always something that rubs me the wrong way when it comes to trying to review a film like that. The Warner Bros. studio might’ve aimed for a grand, award-winning picture with this, but what they ended up with sadly amounts to filler, and little else.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Long Voyage Home

The Long Voyage Home

I’m through with the land, and the land’s through with me.

Alright, so after my work schedule exploded, plus some time taken in-between to do various things (including a script rewrite that I haven’t finished yet), I decided randomly today that it was time to get back into this. It’s been a while, though, so I’ll have to get used to it again, and I dunno how easily that’ll happen, so bear with me. 🙂

After the Best Picture nomination for Stagecoach, director John Ford and star John Wayne got together again to make another great western… except this isn’t actually a western, but a seafaring film instead. The abrupt switch in genre from these two collaborators took me by surprise, to say the least, not to mention the strange shift in pacing that said genre switch ended up causing in this film, which I was probably expecting even less. Here’s where my familiar mild-backpedal kicks in: this isn’t to say that The Long Voyage Home is a poor film, but what it is is not what a John Ford/John Wayne picture is expected to be, and this took quite a bit of getting used to before I was able to ascertain what merit the film actually does have.

The film recounts several stories of the men aboard the SS Glencairn, a British vessel making a long voyage from the West Indies to an eventual port home in Britain circa early-WWII. Their destination home, however, is quite a long ways away, and until then, we follow the men as they try and brave the challenges and tribulations at sea, especially so when their voyage crosses into war-ravaged territory. It’s a snippet of a synopsis indeed, made so as this is technically adapted from four stage plays by Eugene O’Neill, and as such is a bit of a mishmash of plot threads tied together through a common setting more than anything, but to be honest, this isn’t really a film to see for the narrative, or somewhat lack thereof. Rather, the production side of the film is the real selling point here; Ford in the director’s chair, the maritime setting and production value, cinematographer Gregg Toland’s work with light and shadow, and the commitment to the production by some of the name actors attached, including Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. Sure, Wayne’s faux-Swedish accent leaves something to be desired, especially when one is so used to the drawling tone he employs in his Western persona, but he only has around twenty lines in this anyway, so it’s not as negatively distracting as it otherwise would be. What the stars put on the back-burner, however, is overshadowed quite literally by Toland, who would experiment with a lot of the cinematography techniques he would later employ to groundbreaking effect in the following year with Citizen Kane. I’d say the cinematography, as well as the production value of the maritime setting, is what to really see this film for and take away from it.

Now, here’s where I either double down or play Devil’s Advocate with everything I’ve said up to now. I ended the previous paragraph saying that the cinematography and production value are why to see this film; it will probably go without saying at this point that such selling points are not unique to The Long Voyage Home, so why go out of one’s way to see this over other, better, potentially more entertaining films? Honestly, I can’t say, because there really isn’t much to sell this over other such films. Even its nomination for Best Picture seems a combination of premature (for Toland) and riding a small bit of coattails (for Ford and Wayne’s work in Stagecoach the year prior). It’s really not a poor film, but it does get slow at times, and when it does, it becomes a little too clear that the film’s selling points aren’t really enough to, well, to sell the film as a whole. There’s some nice work put in here, no doubt, but this ends up being another film one needn’t really seek out unless they are going through a list of films this happens to be on, as I am.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent

I don’t want correspondence; I want news!

Man, it’s been a while since my last Hitchcock; I was unsure if I’d remember what one of his films was like since it had been so long. Foreign Correspondent would be one of Hitch’s first American productions, as well as one of his first nominations for Best Picture, along with eventual winner Rebecca. While this one may not have had the particular might of David O. Selznick behind it, it still managed a nom for the big one, which now that I’ve seen the picture I guess I won’t argue with. I will say, though, that while this was a decent watch, I can’t see myself ever going out of my way to see it again, and seeing how rewatchability is a very big thing for me with films, Foreign Correspondent ends up only barely getting a passing grade from me.

Joel McCrea is Johnny Jones, a reporter with the New York Globe, who gets appointed as a foreign correspondent with the peculiar pen name of Huntley Haverstock and is shipped off to London to get a fresh take on the burgeoning war in Europe. Jones/Haverstock is directed to a shindig thrown for the Universal Peace Party, headed by Stephen Fisher, in honor of a foreign diplomat named Van Meer. At the party, after schmoozing with Fisher’s daughter Carol, Jones discovers Van Meer is missing, and ends up on the trail of a conspiracy to undermine a secret peace treaty Van Meer was a part of; not to mention a potential romance with Carol, if he manages to survive the events that are unfolding all around him. After the first half hour or so, I was a little unenthused with how by-the-numbers the film had been up to then. It was roughly around that point that the film tried to up my interest by throwing a few of the standard Hitch curveballs into the plot, which succeeded if only mildly; I was interested in how the film would end up at its conclusion, but I still wasn’t able to skirt past the notion that the film was tossing its pitches at me for lack of anything else to do or say. It was a mystery with plenty of twists and turns before we get to the ending we get to, but as is often the case with mysteries, once the actual truth behind the twists and turns is made apparent and resolved, there’s no reason to ever take this particular ride a second time. Everything else about the film was serviceable enough, and the production value takes a noticeable upswing near the end with a plane crash sequence, but with everything being merely serviceable, the focus is put even more on the actual twists and turns of the mystery, which (again) only hold up on a first viewing, when we’re not aware of the actual truth behind everything that’s transpiring.

I said in the opener that it was due to the complete lack of rewatchability that this was barely getting a passing grade from me. I might have misspoken slightly; this is a good enough picture in its own right, but it’s unfortunately the kind of picture that, while plenty of effort and value were put into the film (and it shows), doesn’t warrant more than a single viewing. Viewed and judged as a stand-alone experience though, this was pretty good, and that’s at least more than I can say about a lot of the Best Picture filler of years past. I don’t know if I’d nominate this in an open field, or with a reduced category, but it was a nice little piece of entertainment to sit through. Ask me to sit through it a few more times, however, and I might have something less nice to say about it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

A pity I never had any children… But you’re wrong; I have! Thousands of them!

If what readers I do have will allow me the slight plug for one of my contemporaries, Steve of 1001 Plus has a certain type of film that he’s experienced countless times through his movie-watching endeavors that he has grown to loathe; a type of film, almost a genre, that he has coined the ‘misery parfait’, where the film is essentially absolutely nothing but bad situations and horrible events thrown at a main character who tries to endure it all. The resulting films, of which there are more than a few on the 1001 list, are often miserable to sit through, and perhaps just as pointless to try and find real worth in, especially when one sees more than one such film. Well, here we have a film that might very well lie on the exact opposite side of the spectrum from those films; a film that is basically nothing but good things and joyous mood regarding the main character. Here’s the thing, though; Goodbye, Mr. Chips may be the opposite of a misery parfait for its main character, played by Robert Donat (though that’s not to say that a bad thing or two doesn’t happen in the film), but it ends up being very nearly as pointless a film to sit through as if it had been one, for oddly similar reasons.

Mr. Chipping is a retired English schoolteacher from Brookfield School, who thanks to a cold is forced to miss opening day for the first time at the school where he still keeps up with the students. As he relaxes by the fireside, he reminisces back on his nearly-60-year teaching career, meaning of course the actual film is told in flashback, from his inauspicious arrival at Brookfield to his marriage to Katherine Ellis, played by Greer Garson, to the many years he spends becoming an integral aspect of the school, often teaching several generations of young lads in the same families. There’s really nothing more to it than that; the film recounts how Chipping, who garners the nickname Chips from his wife, starts out having little to no respect from the boys, who play practical jokes on him, but who slowly grows into a much-beloved teacher, all the way through the turn of the century and into the rough years of World War I London. For those looking for a bit more substance or depth to their films, you might want to give Goodbye, Mr. Chips a pass; aside from one or two events that can fairly clearly be placed in the negative column, this is all about how swell a guy Mr. Chips is and how everyone likes him, which while I wouldn’t normally have a problem with given how many of the other kind of film I’ve had to sit through, essentially means that this film has zero conflict, and as any screenwriting (or, presumably, writing) book will tell you, conflict is what makes drama, and with no drama, you have no narrative, and with no narrative, you have no story. As for Donat, who won Best Actor over the likes of Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind and James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I can kinda see why the Academy picked Donat, even if I don’t personally agree; the makeup and styling alone that cover Donat’s Chipping in all his adult ages probably would’ve won it for him, but it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if Donat weren’t able to sell the character no matter what age he is on the screen, and Donat does that with room to spare.

I can see why people like this film; it’s all about how likable the main character is, and how because he’s a good a guy as he is, people will stand up for him even through what might be construed as the rougher patches of his life. Basically, it’s a wish fulfillment, especially in today’s day and age where such people are nigh-impossible to come by, and even less so when the people we’re looking at that we wish were up to that standard are ourselves. But, the thing is; it doesn’t make for a film that is all that honestly worth watching. Even if we take an expanded definition of conflict, to not mean two opposing forces butting heads but instead to merely be the struggles the protagonist must overcome to achieve a goal of some sort, Goodbye, Mr. Chips fails in that regard as well; Mr. Chipping doesn’t have any goals to achieve in this, aside from the persistence of being a good teacher, and if there were goals for him to achieve, which I won’t spoil for whatever reason, there are points in the film where his character even deliberately says that such goals are flights of fancy for him at best, and even if they weren’t, they basically just happen to him anyways instead of being achieved through the overcoming of obstacles. In short, this is a film that, because it flies in the face of basic storytelling constructs and conventions, should not work at all, and it’s only thanks to actors like Donat and the production itself that this is even worth sitting through in any way. It is a feel-good of the utmost feel-goodiest kind, though, so there is that at least.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

Jackie

Jackie

Let them see what they’ve done.

Pablo Larrain’s Jackie seemed a slightly incongruous addition when I first saw that it had been added; it didn’t seem like enough of a picture to warrant inclusion in the Book, as negative as that comes across. Having seen it now, I get the decision to pick this over other fare a lot more; it’s not just that Jackie is a fine film, but how it goes about telling its story is extremely unconventional, which must have of course been exceptionally appealing to the editors of the list. Now, one can certainly argue either for or against this indeed being a fine film, and I’m absolutely not going to be the one to settle that argument. But, for what it’s worth, while the point of the film may have been slightly hard to ascertain at first, the exceptional effort put into this by everyone involved is certainly worth making the argument for this film.

For those who are unaware or somehow unable to discern the film’s plot merely from the title, this is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, specifically about her in the days directly following President Kennedy’s assassination, as told through an interview she gives a reporter much later in her family home. As befitting the structure of the film (having the reporter’s interview as a framing device), the film is very unorthodox with how it presents its content to us; the narrative skips through time, almost wantonly, as if the memories of Jackie herself are jumbled around in her head, trying to make sense of themselves, and the film is merely printing them out in whatever order they happen to come up. For whatever reason they had in presenting the film this way, it did make everything very effective; you get into the headspace of our lead quite easily, mostly thanks to the very slight disconnect between Mrs. Kennedy and the events she is remembering, a disconnect that permeates almost every aspect of this picture. There’s a lot, for instance, in portions of the film of Natalie Portman merely walking around in a fugue state, and indeed we are reminded a few times that, the reporter scenes aside, most of the film is in the days (or sometimes even hours) directly following the assassination. Really, the goal is to get us into the same mindset as Jackie in that timeframe, and in that, the film is largely a success, mostly thanks to Larrain’s steady hand in directing and Natalie Portman’s work in fully embodying the presidential widow. The score was also very interesting; strange and off-setting, making sure you are never in a comfortable place, much like Mrs. Kennedy in the days after the assassination. Looking it up afterwards for myself and finding it was done by Mica Levi, who also provided the score for Under the Skin, merely has it all make even more sense.

What is probably going to be troubling to most of the people that take the time to watch Jackie, is to try and decipher what the point of it all ultimately is. Jackie the character goes through much of the film upset and ravaged, wondering and struggling to make sure that her late husband’s place in history is assured and as perfect as she knew him to be. This, I think, is only ancillary to the point of Jackie the film; this, as redundant as it is to say, is about Jackie the person, what her place in history will be, and how she will be remembered, either by her hand or by the hands of those that write of her. This is the point of the film; sure, it may not exactly be a point that most people will need to have gotten, either by watching this or not, but this was still the point of making it, of making it possible for others to see it if they choose to. It’s up to each potential viewer, and their own cinematic palettes, to weigh that choice for themselves.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)

How many lives is a man-cub worth?

With all the additions to the list this year, even with the innocuous ones, I don’t think I was more surprised by any one film being added more than this one. This past year’s version of The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, is one of the latest in Disney’s newest fad of taking their older animated features and remaking them in live action, and it’s a fad that I’ve never been one to get behind, but that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, what with the box office returns for this one and the recent Beauty and the Beast being what they were. That said, this one does have one major thing going for it, and it was that one thing that I figured was more than likely why it got added to the list at all: the visual effects used to bring the animals and the jungle to life.

You probably know the story to this one already, but still: Mowgli is a “man-cub” found in his infancy by a panther, Bagheera, after the tiger Shere Khan killed his father (getting burned in the process by the adult man’s fiery torch, or “red flower”). Raised by the jungle’s wolf pack into his childhood, Mowgli’s life is upended when Shere Khan returns for him, and he is sent off by Bagheera to find his true place in the man village where he can be protected, all while other jungle creatures meet and try to waylay him for their own purposes. Now, the story for this one isn’t exactly that of Disney’s original version, so it might be a little confusing to fans of the original (especially, for instance, when the film decides to end its story and start rolling the credits), but this is still The Jungle Book, so you pretty much know what you’re gonna get with it. The standard Disney conventions are put to new and interesting ways, from the talking animals to the musical numbers, and it’s thanks to the film being a 3D, live-action version of the story that these conventions have some form of new life breathed into them. Still, the conventions are such for a reason, and that this version holds to them as rigorously as it does is probably why the film, visual effects aside, feels as unnecessary a remake as it does. The visual effects have drawn a lot of comparison to films like Life of Pi and Avatar, which this really does feel like a combination of those two films visually, but it is still in service to a story that doesn’t feel like enough time was put into it. Make no mistake, in contrast to my previous review, this is almost certainly a film to see to be wowed by the visual splendor and technical prowess on display, instead of one to watch for the narrative itself.

When I saw that this had been added to the list, I was surprised at first, but I chalked the addition up to the editors wanting representation for the film’s groundbreaking and Oscar-winning visual effects. Now that I’ve seen it, I feel my original assessment is a lot more solidified, in both positive and negative ways; this was absolutely added for the visual effects, but I can’t really find any other reason for this to be on there. Even with the slight modifications to the story, it didn’t seem enough to warrant another whole spot in the Book to me, and really, it was only by the barest of margins that I was kept entertained through the entire picture. Stunning visual effects, and some good voiceover work as well, but other than that, if you did skip this one when it came out last year, I guess I can’t entirely blame you.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10