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Archive for the ‘Countries’ Category

As Good as It Gets ; 1997

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Director: James L. Brooks
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Country: U.S.A.

I watched this movie on television in either middle school or high school and I remembered enjoying the movie a lot. I came across it again so I decided to watch it and I found it highly enjoyable this time around as well.

I have a weird relationship with Jack Nicholson in that I admire his acting but I find him scary. It isn’t scary in the Boogieman scary but Nicholson has his own weird vibe that I can’t shake off. Even in this movie, all I can think of is, “It’s Jack Nicholson. It’s Jack Nicholson.” while enjoying the movie.

What I liked so much about this movie was the way the actors worked with each other. It was as if the characters were written for them and no one else could play them the way they did. Even though I didn’t think that there was any romantic chemistry between Nicholson and Helen Hunt, I didn’t find it weird either. Speaking of Helen Hunt, I thought that she was wonderful in this film. While Nicholson’s character, Melvin, is the protagonist and it is his story in regards to how he changes by helping other people, it was Hunt’s performance that I found to be most touching. Her scenes with Greg Kinnear were so sweet and she seemed so genuine that I couldn’t differentiate Helen Hunt, the actress, and the character she was playing. I love it when I watch a movie and I forget that it’s a movie; it’s as if I’m no longer here and I’m just a fly on the wall observing real life people. I guess this is why Brecht came up with his idea of theatre, but I really do love this feeling of total immersion when I watch films and in regards to this film, I’m happy that I can pinpoint why I felt this way. Helen Hunt, you are an amazing actress.

And another thing… Verdell is so cute!!! (ref. Picture 2) I know that animals that perform for movies are highly trained but I couldn’t help but wonder how many takes it took to get the right shot. Verdell was so perfect in every moment that I was astounded by how well he conveyed the necessary emotion to complement the other actors. Verdell and Melvin were the best couple in this movie, I swear. Ugh Jack Nicholson… WHY ARE YOU SO TALENTED?!

I’ve decided that this movie is one of my favourite feel good movies; I wouldn’t be surprised if I come back to it every now and then to cheer myself up.

IMDb Link: As Good as It Gets

The Shining ; 1980

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel
Country: United Kingdom, U.S.A.

This entry is dedicated to my friend Stephanie, who is the only one who knows how much I dreaded watching this movie and was willing to do a Kubrick marathon with me. Thank you for being an awesome friend!


Finally, Stephanie and I were able to watch The Shining and resume our Kubrick marathon. I was scared since I do not like horror films at all and I am so glad that we got this movie out of the way. It was worth the watch, but no way am I rewatching this again! (Unless it is with bunnies.)

What made the movie most frightening for me was the use of sound, particularly the score. It complemented the actions on the screen perfectly and created the most unnerving atmosphere. For example, towards the end, when Wendy (Duvall) is looking for Danny inside the hotel, the chant-like music seemed to reflect the hotel’s ghosts coming to life but it also added drama to the scene. I felt very scared watching that scene due to the music and what Wendy was going through. Although I haven’t watched many horror films in my life, I do know that sound plays a large role in the genre, but Kubrick’s use of synth music did a great job in evoking eeriness, claustrophobia, and tension. It was the music that made me jump and feel like I was on the edge of my seat, more than the actions on the screen.

A few things that caught my attention was the exterior shot of the Overlook Hotel (ref. Picture 2) and the acting. When I saw the shot of the hotel, at first, I didn’t even see it until I looked closely at the shot. I wondered why Kubrick chose this hotel because it blended with the surroundings and the shot looked weird. After thinking over it a bit, I thought that the shot worked because it made the hotel look ghostly in the “is it there or is it not there?” sense, which seems to foreshadow the supernatural things that are to happen later on in the movie.
As for the acting, in the beginning, I thought that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall’s acting was incredibly hokey. It was if I was watching a B-movie and I thought that Nicholson in particular was hamming it up. In retrospect, I wonder if this was intentional and if it was, maybe it was an indicator for Jack’s (Nicholson) descent into madness as the hotel takes a hold of him. When Jack is interviewing for the caretaker position and when he calls his wife about it, something about him seems off and inauthentic, but when he decides to do his best to “correct” his wife and child, there is nothing about him that seems fake. As the movie progressed, I stopped thinking this and thought that the chemistry between all the major players in the movie was perfect. I stopped thinking that Nicholson was being hammy and I started to find Duvall to be less and less grating and was rooting for Wendy. Often times when I watch movies, I’m thinking, “YOU IDIOT, WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SO-AND-SO?!” but Wendy was sympathetic and perfect in portraying a loving wife and mother who is frazzled but doing her best to survive and save her son. When Jack is breaking through the bathroom door and talking/singing about little piggies (brilliant moment in acting, by the way), Wendy looks horrified due to what is happening, but when she finally acts and slashes her husband’s hand, her face expression is a combination of fright and guilt over having to hurt her husband. I loved how Wendy was very active and how you could see that there were many thoughts racing through her head, and she tried to think of what she can do to get out of the situation that she is in. She wasn’t some useless woman who gave up and wailed about her woes, but she tried her best to save herself and her son.

What I found enjoyable about The Shining is that it’s not a horror film that’s all about screaming and being scared. There is nothing wrong with movies like that since it’s a completely different experience, but The Shining made me become invested in the plot and the characters rather than watching out for the next scream moment. I’m a fan of straight forward endings, but after watching this movie, I had fun thinking about what certain scenes meant and I have to give props to a movie that let’s me enjoy thinking about something. It also seemed that it was a film that was fully aware of the nature of films in regards to how they are watched and how there is no right interpretation in regards to a movie or any artistic work. I have never been so aware of the mise-en-scène until this movie — the amount of red used in this movie makes you even more aware of its usage. In regards to interpreting film, it reminded me of my early years in college and how I struggled with the idea of what’s the “right” way of looking at a movie until a professor told me to stop stressing and that there is no right or wrong. A person can have their own views and if they can support it, then all is peachy keen. It doesn’t mean that others need to agree or that one needs to agree with others’ points-of-view, but these various perspectives can lead to discussions and further thinking.

Stephanie told me about The Shining re-enacted by bunnies and showed me this wonderful video. I found it absolutely hilarious and adorable and had to watch it on repeat. What amazed me was how successful the video was in capturing all the key scenes and I didn’t find it scary at all. I thought that the “staring” part (ref. Picture 3) was really funny because I didn’t expect to see that within the 30 seconds. It’s impressive how much information can be crammed in 30 seconds.

I would love to watch this movie again, but since I’m a big fat chicken, it’s going to be one of those movies that I admire but can’t rewatch. I can see why so many people are a fan of this movie and I have great appreciation for it as well. I’m really enjoying the Kubrick marathon and so glad that a friend is partaking in it as well. The next film we’re going to watch is Barry Lyndon!

IMDb Link: The Shining

Shakhmatnaya goryachka (Chess Fever) ; 1925

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin, Nikolai Shpikovsky
Actors: Vladimir Fogel, Anna Zemtsova, José Raúl Capablanca
Country: Soviet Union

During my email conversations with my friend, K, I asked her what her personal favorite films were and she mentioned Chess Fever. I was very glad that she recommended it to me because it was a joy to watch! The film had everything that I loved about silent film comedies: slapstick and visual humor.

I think that this is one of those films that is great for introducing people to silent films because it is short, funny, and really cute. The male protagonist was adorable with his many cats, pockets full of chess boards and pieces, and his clothes reflected his obsession with chess; his hat, handkerchief, socks, and even his sweater resembled a chessboard. My favorite scene is definitely the one that I chose for this entry, when the male protagonist tries to woo his fiancee back, but then he ends up playing chess on his handkerchief.

Despite it being very funny, I did find the movie to be quite unsettling. Maybe I am over-analyzing, but it felt as if the movie was a reflection of movie making. In the movie, the only character that dislikes chess is the female protagonist, Vera (Zemtsova). However, everyone in her life, from her mother, her grandfather, is obsessed with chess and so is the rest of the town. In the end, she ends up loving chess by falling in love with the world champion of chess, and she is reunited with her lover (Fogel). Coming back to the idea of movie making, what made me think of that idea was that actors are like chess pieces and don’t have a will of their own: they are the chess pieces and the directors are the players controlling them. Even though actors may say what they want, most likely they will have to succumb to their director’s wishes, and this is just like Vera who in the end becomes like everyone else in the movie. Also, I don’t know if Pudovkin and Shpikovsky were trying to say something about the dangers of group mentality through this movie or if they were just having fun with the idea of chess, but that thought was a bit unsettling too.

Nevertheless, before I started thinking a BIT too much about this movie, I had a lot of fun watching it. It reminded me of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent comedies, which is probably why I enjoyed watching this so much. Also, I FINALLY watched something by Pudovkin, phew!

IMDb Link: Shakhmatnaya goryachka

Die Frau im Feuer ; 1924

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Because this blog is a free for all, I decided to post about my movie related travels.

For my last semester in college, I decided to undertake a research project related to Asta Nielsen and Mary Pickford and was able to travel to Germany and Denmark to dig through the archives and also do an internship. Some of the things I found were things that I didn’t find readily on the internet, so I thought I’d share.

In this entry, I’m posting the Illustrierter Film-Kurier for the presumed lost Nielsen film, Die Frau im Feuer. I found this on microfilm at the Deutsche Kinemathek. I am so glad that these Film-Kuriers exist because they are probably the only ties that we have in regards to Nielsen’s lost films.

What was most surprising about my finds was that Nielsen is rarely seen in fan magazines and the only time she is mentioned in fan magazines is when a new film of hers is released; I saw more of Jenny Jugo than anyone else. However, Nielsen was mentioned quite often in trade journals, especially in the late 1910s and early 1920s, except my German sucks so I have no clue what they are saying for the most part. One day I will master the language, ONE DAY!!!

Click here for the rest!

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Out There – Darkness ; 1959

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Original air date: January 25, 1959
Season 4, Episode 16
Director: Paul Henreid
Actors: Bette Davis, James Congdon, Frank Albertson, Arthur Marshall
Country: U.S.A.

While procrastinating on papers, I often watched Alfred Hitchcock Presents while supping on instant noodles. Now that I’m no longer in school, I haven’t watched an episode of AHP in some time, but while working on my film list and checking off Bette Davis films, I found out that she was in an episode of AHP. Naturally I had to hunt it down and watch it and to be honest, there isn’t much to write home about.

The story is about Miss Fox (Davis), a wealthy widow who lives in a condo by herself. She has a pet dog named Vanessa and Eddie (Congdon) is Vanessa’s dog sitter. One day, Eddie asks Miss Fox for money to help his sick fiancée. Miss Fox, who has a little crush on Eddie, is disappointed to hear that he has a fiancée and it is probably due to this reason that she refuses to give him the money. When Eddie leaves, Miss Fox calls out to him, probably from guilt and wanting to give him the money, but it is too late. Later, Miss Fox takes Vanessa out on a walk and gets strangled. Miss Fox identifies her perpetrator as Eddie but Eddie denies that he attacked her and says he is innocent. A year later, it is proven that Eddie is innocent and Miss Fox feels guilty about it. Nevertheless, she never outright apologizes to Eddie but does attempt to make things right by giving him a large sum of money. Eddie doesn’t forgive her and strangles her to death when she returns from a walk with Vanessa.

I didn’t care much for the story, but maybe it is because I watched this episode just to see Davis. My eyes were on her and that was all that I cared about. Despite being a fan of Davis, I am going to say something that is going to sound awful: I believe that her raspy voice (which somehow kind of worked in All About Eve) is the indicator of her downfall as a star. Of course, her age had to do with her losing star power in the Hollywood system, but I believe that it is her raspy voice that makes her appear like a bad imitation of herself. In her earlier films, she has a voice that is versatile but once that raspy-ness kicks in, she sounds almost monotone and (sometimes) laughable.

Mixing Davis’ voice with a bland story and hokey music led to some fun but that was it. I found James Congdon to be rather boring and flat as an actor and he only came alive when he was playing with Vanessa. I guess he acted that way to show that he didn’t have any interest in Miss Fox as a woman but nevertheless, I found him banal and saw him as proof of how much Davis has fallen since she is working with such an actor rather than a talented star. Despite Davis’ voice, her acting is still top notch and it can be seen when comparing her to Congdon. In the elevator scene when Miss Fox tells Eddie that he’s changed, Eddie looks only a tad more unhappy but looks as stiff as he did in the beginning of the episode. The only thing that changed was that Eddie has more of a frown on his face than a neutral expression. Davis, on the other hand, gives a nuanced performance when she finds out that Eddie has a fiancée. Just from looking at her face, you can see the disappointment, the hurt, and the jealousy, and can imagine Miss Fox thinking about aging and how her youth has passed. After all, Davis wasn’t a great actress for nothing!

The directing and usage of sound was similar to any AHP episode. When I see imitations of old TV shows with the exaggerated, sudden music, and corny acting or usage of props, I thought that it was just for fun but now I can see that old TV shows really did look like their reproductions. Paul Henreid, who I adored in Now, Voyager (1942, also starring Davis!!!), directed this episode and he also directed Davis in a movie, Dead Ringer (1964). I haven’t watched Dead Ringer yet but I hope that his directing style has improved by then because the directing here was trite.

AHP are like guilty pleasures for me — I don’t feel guilty for watching them but I’m never too sure why I watch them yet I keep on watching them. I admit that I look forward to how Hitchcock will present the story, but other than that, there isn’t any reason for me to watch them except to pass time. The stories are usually flat and sometimes even boring, and they don’t hold a candle to Hitchcock’s works. I should read more about Hitchcock so that I can learn why he did these television shows. I admire him for cashing in on his fame (it’s a smart thing to do), but at the same time, I feel pooped whenever the episodes aren’t that great. Isn’t it peculiar that I’ve watched many of Hitchcock’s feature films yet I know almost nothing about the director? Hm…

IMDb Link: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Out There – Darkness

The Great Gatsby ; 2013

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke
Country: Australia, U.S.A.

I dedicate this entry to my friend, Poopsie, who has known me for thirteen years and calls me a film snob. I swear to God that I’m not!!! But maybe I might come off snobby in this entry? *wiggles eyebrows* No, she’s right, I am a snob. Speaking of pretension, this is what I could call snobby: The New Yorker.

When I heard that there was going to be another adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I felt a combination of excitement and dread. Excitement, because I thought that Baz Luhrmann might be the perfect director to direct the story, but dread because I wondered if ANY film could do the book justice. Also, I grew up watching the 1974 version (ROBERT REDFORD, HNGGGGGG) so I’m going to be perfectly frank with you, I’M BIASED.

Then the trailer came out, and I was excited to see Leonardo DiCaprio (I love him as an actor), but instead of feeling in awe of DiCaprio, I laughed when he came on the screen. What kind of indicator was THAT? And on top of this, I saw that Ziegfeld Follies was misspelled so I had my little immature moment (aka “snobby moment”) going “What the fuzzy?!”. According to a comment that was left in an article that my friend sent me, there is a newsreel clip where Ziegfeld is spelled Zeigfeld, and maybe Luhrmann was acting even snobbier than all 1920s fans/snobs by making some abstruse reference to a newsreel clip, but COME ON. Ziegfeld is a big name so HOW COULD YOU MISSPELL THAT? Feeling miffed and confused over DiCaprio, I became reluctant to watch this movie and didn’t plan to watch it.

In a turn of events, I ended up at a theatre, and I told Poopsie that the actor I am looking forward to the most is Tobey Maguire. When I found out that he was cast as Nick, I was really happy to hear that — definitely more excited than hearing that DiCaprio got the role of Jay Gatsby despite my fondness for him. Well, like most people, Poopsie was horrified to hear that I was looking forward to Maguire and I’m going to tell you guys now: I still stand by my approval of him.

I found the movie fun to watch and all I could think was that the film was a sensory orgy. I didn’t know what to listen to nor where to focus my eyes on because there was so much to look at and sounds sometimes overlapped to create a certain feel. Visually, the film itself was very Luhrmann-esque (think Moulin Rouge) and my first impression was that it was nothing more than a lot of glitter, but that made me think even more about it.

First off, DO NOT COMPARE THIS MOVIE TO THE NOVEL. Like many people, I tend to compare film adaptations to their source work, but recently, I have been trying to stop doing that. After watching this film, I decided that comparing a book and a movie is like comparing apples and oranges and that there are some things that only movies can do and there are some things that only written works can do. I tried to watch this movie with an open mind (it also helped that it’s been 10 years or so since I last read the book) and I tried my best to not compare it to the novel’s themes or story line and to only take in what was shown in front of me. It was rather effective since I found the movie to be well-paced and fun to watch.

After the initial reaction wore off, I began to think that the movie was very “empty”. Despite trying to prevent myself from comparing the film to the novel, I felt a little sad that the movie felt like it was all about the visuals and the themes of the novel weren’t present in the film at all. How I saw it was that the story was just a backdrop, or even an excuse, to have such resplendent visuals, and that all that mattered were the images and nothing else. Pretty much what I ended up concluding about the movie was that it was like nice on the outside but nothing on the inside. But then I thought, “Would this movie hold up on any level if there was no story? Or if the source material was a bad one at that?” Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is on the verge of being a melodrama on the story level and it appears that the only thing that Luhrmann took from the novel was the love story with the themes in the novel being completely lost. After much thinking about this, I think that my initial thoughts are wrong. The film isn’t meaningless — on the contrary, Luhrmann uses this seemingly glib film to underscore the emptiness related to wealth when it is surfeit and the superficial nature of American patricians.

In many ways it reminded me of Josef von Sternberg’s films where image is most important. Just like von Sternberg (reference Image 4), Luhrmann’s visuals are lush, but unlike von Sternberg, I think that Luhrmann’s Gatsby has visuals with meaning. At this point, I see many of von Sternberg’s films made in the 1930s to be purely visual pieces where the story is used just as an excuse to compose beautifully composed moving images. But does a purely visual piece mean that a work is meaningless? Does meaning give worth to a movie? I think this is where subjectivity comes into play because when I watch some experimental films, I don’t feel like all I saw was images but that there was something more to it. Is it because I’m watching a narrative film that I expect to not feel this “emptiness” and that I’d take something away from the movie and its storyline? What would Gatsby be without the visual overload? I don’t even know what to think of all this. I should rewatch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette because I think that that film will be the perfect film to use as a backdrop to aid me with my thoughts and questions. Anyway, coming back to what I was saying, I don’t think it’s just beauty for beauty’s sake with this film but instead, Luhrmann quite appropriately uses excessiveness. After all, don’t we associate the Roaring Twenties with extreme extravagance? And it was because of Luhrmann’s style that made me think in the first place that he would be the perfect director for this film.

Coming back to Toby Maguire, the reason why I liked him so much was because of this “emptiness” that I speak of. Even as Nick, who has the most “soul” in the movie, he appears to be stiff and cold. Maguire’s acting style doesn’t make me see Nick as a warm character but instead, his acting is just another aspect of the movie that emphasizes the lack of warmth and genuine human interaction within the upper crust.

Also, was it only me or was there a picture of Norma Shearer (ref. Picture 5) in the party scene where Nick gets drunk? I had a mini fangirl moment while watching the movie. I love that woman too much. I don’t remember the picture too clearly, but it kind of looked like this one. I was also happy to see Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar Man (ref. Picture 3), Mae Murray’s name, Blood and Sand, and Douglas Fairbanks’ name. I need to learn how to stop fangirling whenever I see references to things I like. Will I ever grow up?

Image credits:

IMDb Link: The Great Gatsby

Paths of Glory ; 1957

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Richard Anderson, Joe Turkel
Country: U.S.A.

My friend and I have been planning a Kubrick marathon for some time but something always came up and we would not watch a Kubrick film or we wouldn’t get to it. We decided that The Shining would be our first film but due to technical difficulties, the only choice we had was Paths of Glory. We both groaned since we both dislike war movies and I felt pooped about having to stare at Kirk Douglas’ face. I have nothing against him but whenever I see his face, I just want to punch him, just like Jason Schwartzman. Just like how I didn’t want to punch Schwartzman when I actually met him, my urge to punch the computer screen whenever Douglas showed up lessened and lessened. He was wonderful as Colonel Dax.

In many ways, I don’t think that Paths of Glory is special but at the same time, there are many exceptional things about it. For the most part, the film looks like a normal A/B feature film but then you start seeing things that are distinctly Kubrick, specifically cinematic aspects that you see later on in his films. I, and many others, associate Kubrick with tracking shots, and I have often associated Max Ophüls with tracking shots as well. For me, when I watched Paths of Glory, the tracking shots did not have the grand feel that Ophüls’ tracking shots had. Or maybe they both achieved the same effect in that Ophüls used those tracking shots to give his films a glossy feel whereas Kubrick used tracking shots to achieve various effects. For example, in the famous tracking shot of when Colonel Dax walks in the trenches, the viewer isn’t marveling at the lovely movement of the camera but instead, one notices the grim look on everyone’s faces. Each face may be different but they don’t really have an identity — instead, they collectively give off the impression of people being in the dumps. War isn’t glamourous and fighting it isn’t all flags and glory — instead, it is a cause for unhappiness.

This picture (on the right) also made me aware that Kubrick was stepping out of the norm in regards to normal Hollywood style camera angles. It was moments like this when I became aware that this film was made my Kubrick, versus let’s say… Edmund Goulding (no offense to Goulding, of course). The impression I got was that the director was going for something new and the odd angle had an almost Brechtian effect on me. Sure, it made me focus on the character and made it look like I was looking down on him, just like what the judges and prosecutor were doing, but at the same time, all I could think was “WHY DID HE USE THIS ANGLE?” It bugged me loads.

All in all, I thought it was a good movie but it definitely made me feel pooped, as usual. I wonder how I’ll fare with Full Metal Jacket.

IMDb Link: Paths of Glory

Stella Dallas ; 1937

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Director: King Vidor
Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O’Neil
Country: U.S.A.

Film adaptations of Olive Higgins Prouty’s novels seem to have a way of making me into an emotional wreck. Now, Voyager gets me every time and has me clutching onto napkins and wringing them while watching the film but Stella Dallas made me emotional to the extent that I could not even watch the film straight through. I don’t know what I would have done if I watched it in a theatre because the emotions that I felt were much too great to handle. I am a sucker for melodramas and usually cry through most of them but there was something about Stella Dallas that was almost painful for me to watch and it reminded me of an essay I had to read for class about female spectatorship in regards to melodramas. If I remember correctly, it was about the masochistic relationship that women have and how they enjoy seeing other women in pain (disclaimer: I could be remembering this all wrong), and the reason I thought this was because I continued watching the film when at times I almost became physically ill from watching this film. Even though I paused the film at times to catch my breath, I kept on watching it until the end. Why did I do this? The answer could be as simple as “Because I wanted to know the ending.” but somehow I don’t think it’s quite that.

While watching it, I wondered why I had such a violent reaction while watching this film to the extent that I had to get away from it at times and why I started feeling sick and couldn’t breathe properly. After thinking a bit after watching this film, I think that my fear (of sorts) with maternal melodramas stem from Mildred Pierce. While Mildred Pierce is a film that I like a lot, sometimes I have a hard time watching it due to how hateful Veda is and another melodrama that I have a hard time watching is Imitation of Life because of how Peola acts towards her mother. In both these films, the daughter character has traits that can be seen as despicable (why they act this way can be analyzed and be a wholeeeee ‘nother entry) yet in Stella Dallas, the daughter: Laurel, is not a character to be hated. She is a likable character and quite noble as can be seen in the scene when she finds out that her friends are making fun of her mother. Even though in the beginning she was embarrassed by her mother, she realizes that she loves her mother very much and does not want to leave her mother’s side, even for the chance of being seen as an upper-class, respectable young woman. I was so terrified that Laurel would hate her mother and had to pause the film and take a break for a few minutes before watching the scene when Laurel finds out that it is her mother that her friends are ridiculing. To be honest, I didn’t even really watch it and closed my eyes and ears and looked sporadically to see what happened but I couldn’t take the scene in fully. I didn’t want to because Veda from Mildred Pierce haunted me and I was frightened that Laurel would turn out to be just like Veda.
This was why the ending was particularly hard to watch and why I cried through the whole end sequence. There was no blame to be put on a specific character as to why the ending happened the way it did and the excess emotions that I felt weren’t filtered into how I felt towards various characters. Instead, all I felt was pity and frustration throughout the whole film and there was no cathartic moment or an outlet for these emotions. In Mildred Pierce, I felt anger towards Veda and pity towards Mildred but in Stella Dallas, there wasn’t any division or displacement of my emotions and my feelings just kept on rolling into a ball. Maybe after a few months, I should do a “Stella Dallas Revisited” sort of blog entry and analyze WHY I felt as if there wasn’t an outlet for emotion, at least for me.
While some people may view Stella’s actions to be annoying and that Stella was “asking for it”, she did the ultimate sacrifice by giving up her daughter so that her daughter could have a life that is different from her own. What perturbed me though was Stella’s smile as she watches her daughter get married and then walks away. Sure she is happy that her daughter was able to marry the man she loved but why is it necessary for Stella to be out of the picture? It was obvious that Laurel loved her mother very much and that Laurel would have found a way to have her man and keep her mother close to her. What was the force that drove Laurel and Stella apart? Is it because social image is so important that a mother has to give up her daughter in order for the daughter to be happy? Is image that important that Laurel’s father and stepmother would support Stella’s decision even though they are aware of Stella’s ulterior motives? Would Laurel truly be happy without her mother? I think that there is a very bittersweet undertone to the wedding scene because Laurel still remembers her mother and I don’t think that Laurel will ever forget her even as years pass by despite how they ended their communication with each other. Both characters are trapped within circumstances that they couldn’t fully control as can be seen with both Laurel and Stella being behind bars and I strongly believe that neither character will truly be happy by the trappings that society made for them and the trappings that they themselves made for themselves by accepting the pressures of society.

Finally, I just wanted to say how surprised I was by this film in regards to King Vidor. While I do associate King Vidor with Show People, somehow I expected this film to use the film medium more effectively than the traditional classic Hollywood style. I know of King Vidor’s potential and his interest in cinematography and somehow I expected something a little more from Stella Dallas. Although I DO admit that this film did remind me of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement in Germany because of the film didn’t look glamourous like Now, Voyager, but at the same time, many Hollywood films had this look of even lighting. Also, Stella Dallas didn’t really call for glamour like Now, Voyager did. I guess what did most of the legwork in this film for its emotional intensity was Barbara Stanwyck, but I’m not surprised by that. She is an amazing actress, no doubt about it!

IMDb Link: Stella Dallas
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Pride and Prejudice ; 1940

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Actors: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Marsha Hunt, Heather Angel, Mary Boland, Edmund Gwen, Edna May Oliver
Country: U.S.A.

I haven’t finished reading Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice because I couldn’t get past the first few pages and always dreaded even glancing at the book or anything related to Austen. I came across this film while my mom was on her old film spree and thought, “Heck, I’m never going to read that bloody book so I might as well watch the movie!” I never regretted that decision.

I have no idea how this film compares to the book but I could care less since I want to look at this film as a film, not a copy of the book. I loved the story, dialogue, costumes, the actors, EVERYTHING! I couldn’t help but relate to Elizabeth, although I think that I’m much less intelligent and witty as her, but I’ve been in the whole Darcy/Elizabeth situation before. Although the ending is predictable, the film is still enjoyable, especially to see Laurence Olivier, as Mr. Darcy, kiss Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Oliver). Even though I didn’t find Greer Garson to be attractive (I guess that’s suiting since Elizabeth isn’t supposed to be pretty? But wasn’t Garson seen as a beauty in Hollywood? She’s definitely grown on me like Irene Dunne so I guess she does have something to her. Now I’m going off on a tangent), I thought she performed her part to perfection and so did Olivier. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Mr. Darcy the way Olivier did… well, except Colin Firth, but he did anyway (I should watch that adaptation). You could just hate Darcy despite his good looks in the beginning, but eventually you see him the way Elizabeth sees him and your hatred for him slowly melts away. I don’t know if I should credit that to the script writers or Olivier’s acting or Leonard’s directing: I’ll give the point to Olivier. I loved the way Garson spoke, walked around as if she was gliding across the floor, and well, she was just charming. I fell in love with Laurence Olivier the first time I saw him in this film and thought he has got to be one of the most handsome men to have graced this planet. Not only is he handsome, but he is a talented actor as well. The way he held himself in a haughty manner but then he had to portray Mr. Darcy’s vulnerable moments and he did so to such perfection that I was smitten by him and the character of Mr. Darcy. It’s hard not to admire an actor who portrays emotions and change so well with just a simple glance, a raise eyebrow, or a gesture. If people thought that Olivier was a hammy actor, all one needs to do is turn on Pride and Prejudice; actually, I think that Olivier was good in all of his performances in the now classic films — it’s just Fire Over England that didn’t strike a chord with me (I’ll blame it on being a British production. I KID!). I think he has a certain charm that makes him able to pull off anything and make it look easy and natural. I don’t know how to put how much I loved the acting of both Garson and Olivier so you must watch this film to see it for yourself!

I can find no flaws in this film and it’s something that I would probably come back to quite often to watch. I had to wait seven months to re-watch it and I loved it just as much as I did the first time I watch it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I want to watch it again in the near future.

IMDb Link: Pride and Prejudice
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Fire Over England ; 1937

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Director: William K. Howard
Actors: Flora Robson, Raymond Massey, Leslie Banks, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Morton Selten, Tamara Desni, James Mason
Country: United Kingdom

This entry is for the Viv and Larry Blogathon.

I have been meaning to watch Fire Over England because it stars both Olivier and Leigh so I thought that it would be perfect that I watch it and blog about it for the marathon. To be honest though, I was a little disappointed by it. There were so many big names behind it, specifically Erich Pommer, Alexander Korda, and James Wong Howe and it was obvious that it was a huge production, but it felt like a bit lacking. It reminded me of the large historical films that Hollywood made, for example the 1938 Marie Antoinette where there were great costumes and sets, but that was it. Even the actors seem like nothing and the beautiful costumes just overpower them.

Although I watched this film for Olivier and Leigh, the actress that stood out was Flora Robson. She had so much presence as Queen Elizabeth and was absolutely perfect. She WAS queenly and it was as if you were watching the real Queen Elizabeth (or how I imagined Queen Elizabeth was like). I was a disappointed by Olivier’s performance and I thought that his performance in this film supported the arguments that people made about how he was not a screen actor but a stage actor. He was so lovely in Pride and Prejudice and to see him less than perfect in this film made me a bit sad. I felt that he was a bit hammy, and not the good kind like John Barrymore, but from what I understand, this film was made earlier in his career before he reached the zenith of his career. I didn’t see any potential in him as a film actor solely based on this film but on the other hand, Vivien Leigh showed the potential that she had. Despite being a newcomer compared to Olivier when it came to acting, she showed energy and passion. Even though she had a minor role with a rather flat character, there was just something in her face and the movement of her body that just screamed out POTENTIAL TO BE A BIG MOVIE STAR. I cannot put my finger on it but there was just something about Leigh that I liked in this film. It was fun to watch an early film that she starred in and I think it’s the energy that I felt in her performance that made her performance in Gone With the Wind so great. That bubbly energy and drive that showed through in her performance in Fire Over England made me think that it was the right choice to choose Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. I guess what I love so much about Vivien Leigh is that you feel this energetic drive every time you watch a film with her in it — you feel something that makes you drawn to her and she seems to be so open, vulnerable, and raw as if she exposes and gives everything in her film performance. I felt a bit of that in Fire Over England and that energy really shows through in Leigh’s future great performances such as Gone With the Wind, Waterloo Bridge, and A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s such a shame that I wasn’t able to write something nice about Laurence Olivier because I admire him as a film director and actor. I guess his talent just didn’t shine through in this film or I just wasn’t feeling his performance but it’s ok because I’ll be blogging about my all-time favourite Olivier film performance tomorrow!

IMDb Link: Fire Over England
Where to buy: Amazon.com