Tag: double feature

Witchy Double Feature: Practical Magic (1998) and The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv (Practical Magic); On dvd on my computer, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge (The Witches of Eastwick).

In my past few Alex Makes Art posts I’ve mentioned an etsy customer who’s commissioned me to make some prints for her. She has a lot of different films and tv shows and musicians she’d like art for, which is exciting, but also it means I have some properties to see if I’m not familiar with them already! I can tell she likes fantasy/witch-related stories from some of her choices, so I got to check out Practical Magic and The Witches of Eastwick as sort of prep-work for the designs. Wouldn’t this be the perfect job? Watching movies as research and then just making art for them? Jeez. Dream life right there, I’m realizing. Anyway. (Commission me!)

Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic tells the story of the Owens women, a clan who dates back to Salem as known for their witchcraft. They’re nice people, typically, but cursed to suffer if they ever fall in love- their significant others always die. Sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) are orphaned at a young age and grow up with their wacky aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest). Sally is a practical homebody affected by the curse after several years of marriage and two daughters. Gillian is a world-tripping free spirit who brings horror to her childhood home when her abusive boyfriend is accidentally killed and then kind of brought back as a zombie.

This movie was certainly not what I expected, I’ll say that! There’s a lot more… murder? The cast is great, and includes appearances from Aidan Quinn and Margo Martindale! I do typically enjoy witch/fantasy-type stories in general, so the magical shenanigans going on are cool to me, and I liked the sisterly camaraderie theme and goofy antics of Channing and Wiest. Plus it has these unexpected dark moments that were a nice surprise. So much is going on here, though. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it just felt scattered overall. Several years pass, multiple stories are told, and there isn’t much cohesion from beginning to end. I can see this working as a book, with more time to deal with all the plot lines and better develop certain characters and narratives. Plus it gets too cheesy at times.

Also did you guys know this was directed by Griffin Dunne? I had no idea he’d directed several movies (mostly romantic comedy-types) over the years. The more you know.

3.5/5

The Witches of Eastwick had been vaguely on my radar for a while, mainly I knew it as a witchy movie with Jack Nicholson and several famous ladies and that it had a hilariously-named porn parody called The Witches of Breastwick. Hehehe. Turns out it’s a pretty weird and ambiguous comedy-thriller based on a book by John Updike. What? I know. Nicholson plays the sleazy but magnetic Daryl Van Horne, a new resident in the quiet American suburb of Eastwick. He romances three best friends who turn out to have magic powers when they work together. Alex (Cher) is a strong-willed widow/mom/sculptor, Jane (Susan Sarandon) is a recently-divorced, downtrodden music teacher, and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a hardworking reporter and mother of 6 (I think? There were always a ton of kids surrounding her, I never counted) whose husband deserted her.

This is a strange movie, totally not what I was expecting. Parts of it are awesome: big, nay- HUGE- 80s hair, strong and sexy ladies, free love, levitating, and a pretty rad climax with magic and feathers and lingerie and ice cream and demon transformation. I thought the idea of three approaching-middle-age women who find their true strengths after losing their men interesting, especially since magic powers were involved. But in truth most of this film didn’t really make much sense to me, it is totally all over the place with its narrative and its messages. I’m all for sexual liberation and whatnot, but it seemed to me that a premise involving three women who are clearly manipulated by some demonic asshole, who basically gets his way in the end (he wanted kids to prolong his evil line or whatever) despite physical defeat, and then showing at least one of those women still pining for him even after learning he’s some kind of psychotic devil, is self-defeating. I know it’s a comedy, but it’s still a backwards message. And their magical-ness is never explained or even fully explored, so not sure what’s going on there.

Also this movie has way too much throwing up. Like, at one point I was trying to eat a pizza. Then I had to stop because watching the film was too gross. Goddamn cherry vomit everywhere. Poor Veronica Cartwright! Her character was dumped on the entire movie, poor thing. And her ability to figure out Van Horne’s plot was never even explained, come to think of it. Oh well. Anyway this movie was ok.

Also also: It’s directed by George Miller, like the Mad Max guy. He also made Babe and the Happy Feet movies. What is with this?

3/5

Catching Up With 2011 Double Feature: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dangerous Method

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

These were two of the films I felt I should see before I made my Favorites of 2011 list, though neither made it. It was more of a just in case thing. Both come from directors whom I admire (though I’ve only seen one of Alfredson’s other films so far) and both feature impressive, super-white casts of people with primarily British accents. So: A good pairing! Unfortunately we went on a weekend, which meant we were reminded that no one in the world knows how to behave like a human being. Like, maybe no one has ever gone to a movie before? Nobody ever taught these people how to handle it? It’s too bad, really, when everyone sucks but me.

Based on the famed John le CarrĂ© novel that I haven’t read (as usual), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy centers on George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a high-ranking member of the British secret service who is forced into retirement. He is convinced by a government official to privately investigate a potential mole, researching the close-lipped inner circle of the service and their agents’ actions in the Soviet Union. Of course, the closer he gets, the more intricate and threatening the conspiracy becomes.

Taking a very quiet, gradual approach in its storytelling and preferring to ambiguously imply rather than tell, Tinker Tailor is certainly different than the high-octane thrillers I tend to associate with the spy genre. It takes its time (it really takes its time) to establish characters and their relationships, and rarely wears its emotions on its sleeve, much like Smiley himself. The story itself is too sparse, I think, with not enough time spent on the potential moles for me to care which one it was. Plus Cold War movies set in the 70s or 80s are always sort of hard to take completely seriously, since I know the USSR is secretly unraveling.

The strong cast and thoughtful cinematography make up for my reservations with the script, though. Oldman is able to communicate so much through a look or terse comment, while supporters Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Mark Strong offer intriguing performances themselves. Of course I was most excited to see the adorable Benedict Cumberbatch out of his Sherlock role, with an indie band blonde haircut and very sharp blue tie he was looking good. He was also probably the most emotional of the characters, and there is one moment in particular that had me tearing up a bit.

4/5

I feel like the past year has been a time of finally realizing that David Cronenberg is one the coolest directors, as I caught up with a lot of his 80s offerings. I know he flipped some switch and turned away from his crazy body horror-type stuff for more realistic, Viggo Mortensen-based films in the past decade, and that’s ok too, just a little less exciting. Based on a play that was based on a book, A Dangerous Method seeks to highlight the relationship between psychoanalyst pioneers Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) through their connections with a brilliant but troubled young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). As Jung helps her to better understand her sexual masochism, he finds his own beliefs (based on Freud’s work) shifting, causing a rift in their intellectual partnership.

With a trio of fantastic performances and truly interesting subject matter, A Dangerous Method should have been more easy to like. I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and sexy encounters, but the haphazard pacing (so many years would pass without much warning) and lack of driving force, it’s not as engrossing as it could be. I think it should have been either wholly about Jung’s relationship with Sabina or with Freud, not both. Still, it’s worth a watch for Fassbender’s sad eyes and Knightley’s truly impressive characterization. Normally I hate her performances but here I think she was quite strong. Also Mortensen’s attempt at an Austrian accent is kind of funny, it’s mostly just British. At least Fassbender knew he couldn’t do it and stayed English.

Beautiful costumes, lovely settings, sado-masochism, and high-falutin’ psychological discussions: A Dangerous Method has many things to like, but it doesn’t all fit together seamlessly. And it kind of felt like anyone could have directed it- I wanted that Cronenberg grittiness. I really want to learn more about Sabina Spielrein though. Sadly it seems like there aren’t many good biographies in print? I’m checking out my new school’s library when I get a chance.

3.5/5

I Love Children Double Feature: Annie (1982) and Billy Elliot (2000)

Seen: On dvd on Sasha‘s fancy new tv, while visiting Toronto.

Reading Sasha’s review of Annie had me weirdly in the mood to re-visit it. I remember watching it a lot as a kid even though the main character annoyed the shit out of me. Then while visiting her in Toronto we had multiple conversations (with multiple people) about the fact that I hadn’t seen Billy Elliot. It appears this is a crime against humanity? But never fear, all was set right thanks to her generosity and good thinking! We had a delightful double feature during an important day of blogging.

Based on the long-running newspaper comic strip and subsequent musical adaptation, Annie tells the disgustingly saccharine tale of the titular Depression-era orphan (Aileen Quinn) as she moves from an orphanage in the slums up to a billionaire’s mansion when she is invited to spend a week with Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Albert Finney). She learns what it’s like to be rich, chills with a hair-flippy dancing secretary (Ann Reinking), and tries to escape the evil clutches of the gold-digging Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) and her con artist associates (Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters). Also there’s a dog. And lots of singing. And… little girls

As a kid I watched this movie primarily because I loved the Talent Trinity of Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters. Also I liked the dancing. As a character Annie has remained irritating as all hell, but it’s kind of entertaining. She’s high-pitched and super passive-aggressive and really over-acty (well, all the kids are, so I can’t blame her there), and it’s basically hilarious. The rest of the cast isn’t much better, excepting my three favorites mentioned earlier. Albert Finney yells at everything and wears a bald cap while Ann Reinking blares that audacious smile and over-laughs at every joke. I enjoyed Edward Hermann’s appearance as FDR, a president who could only stop the Depression with the help of an asshole billionaire apparently. And there’s some racism both for the 30’s and 80’s as a black man plays an Indian guy named Punjab who has mystical powers (duh he’s Indian OF COURSE HE HAS MYSTICAL POWERS). At there’s no brownface?

The story is ok, pretty straightforward, family-friendly heartwarming stuff with a watered-down version of the time period- everything is over the top and over-simplified, but that’s to be expected for a musical aimed at kids. Which is why the surprisingly terrifying climax and totally ridiculous scenes involving the sex-starved and abusive Miss Hannigan don’t really fit in with the rest of the film. But oh well, it’s Carol Burnett’s drunken rants about children that keep me coming back to Annie. What can I say? I totally relate.

I have so many complaints about this movie, clearly, yet I find it so re-watchable. The songs and musical numbers are truly great, and there are some really fun scenes that re-create entertainment in the 30’s, such as the radio broadcast and the movie screening pre-show. It’s the kind of film that’s sort of fun because of its problems, as well as despite them. And seriously, Burnett is comic gold as Miss Hannigan, and now I’m off to watch her stride down “Easy Street” with Tim and Bernadette.

3/5

Ok time for the main feature here as I finally dig into Billy Elliot, a movie I’d heard so much about I almost feel like I’d seen it already, especially with recent talk about the stage musical. Cute-as-a-button Jamie Bell stars as Billy, a young boy living in small-town England who secretly skips boxing lessons to join a dance class. His teacher Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters) believes he has real talent and encourages him to apply to a London dance academy, but his conventional father (Gary Lewis) and bullying older brother (Jamie Draven)- who are both on an extended coal miner’s strike- don’t understand these aspirations.

It’s kind of cheesy and pretty predictable, but dammit I was really into this movie. The script merges the actual UK Miner’s Strike in 1984 with the fictional story of an idiosyncratic boy who fights for his dream at the risk of alienating his family. While these components don’t always fit together well, it does make for a more gripping backdrop of your typical kid-just-wants-to-dance tale. It allows for more exploration of the father and brother characters, and a more nuanced context for the townsfolk. I liked the subplot about Billy’s best friend who’s secretly gay, even though I worried for that character the whole movie because it felt like physical confrontation just waiting to happen.

Aside from Jamie Bell being absolutely adorable and wonderfully expressive, Billy Elliot‘s crowning achievement is the dancing. OH THE DANCING. There are so many awesome musical sequences in this movie, it’s amazing. Jamie Bell is just a really good dancer, seriously, because for the most part I don’t think they used a body double. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) He does one of the best angry dances I’ve ever seen, so enjoy that. This is a pretty awesome movies, you guys, not sure why I never watched it. Time to see the stage version.

4/5

It IS Easy Being Green Double Feature: The Muppet Movie (1979) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up (The Muppet Movie) and on my tv (Muppet Treasure Island), both rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Oh boy I’m kind of really looking forward to the new Muppet movie, you guys! I haven’t seen too much of the variety show but growing up I enjoyed all the movies and the animated “Muppet Babies” spin-off. They’re just a fun group of puppets, really. To psych up for the new film I revisited two of the old standbys: The Muppet Movie– the first feature-length film, which I’d only seen once- and Muppet Treasure Island– a silly adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel that I watched quite often in my bygone youth. And good news: they’re both musicals!

When a big movie producer stumbles upon Kermit the Frog playing banjo and cracking jokes in a swamp, he convinces our hero to travel cross-country to Hollywood to break into the movie business. Eventually joined by struggling comedian Fozzie Bear, happy-go-lucky plumber Gonzo (and his chicken wife), aspiring actress Miss Piggy, and various other familiar faces, Kermit drives around singing songs and trying to escape the clutches of a crazy frog legs fast food salesman (Charles Durning).

This is the kind of movie that just puts a smile on your face right away and keeps it there straight through. It isn’t uproariously funny, and it is dated at times, but for the most part it’s just a pleasant, adorable, goofy experience. The cameos come fast and frequent, with half the cast straight out of a Mel Brooks movie (who makes a fantastic appearance himself much to my delight!). I love the songs from my new favorite person Paul Williams (who also gets a brief cameo), and of course the many Hollywoody jokes, but it’s the characters that will always leave the biggest impression. There’s a reason the Muppets continue to be loved and re-discovered in new ways today- they’re just so darn lovable!

Also I’m totally going to make a gig poster for Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem aka THE BEST-NAMED BAND EVER.

4/5

The Muppets prove their impressive adaptability with Muppet Treasure Island, which manages to keep fairly close to Stevenson’s novel while throwing in a wealth of ridiculous gags and fun characters. The general story follows good-hearted [and crazy high-voiced (AND mulleted)] Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop), an adventurous orphan who gets a pirate treasure map and travels on a dangerous voyage to claim the loot. He befriends Long John Silver (Tim Curry), a one-legged cook with questionable intentions, and tries to keep his head around all the weird puppets working on board. There’s a lot of singing.

I loved this movie as a kid, I think partially because it is a) Hilarious and b) Wonderfully self-aware. All of the fourth-wall-breaking jokes and anachronisms cracked me up, plus the cast of characters is excellent. Tim Curry rocks hard all the time, and here he’s got a bellowing laugh and sadly only one musical number. Billy Connelly and Jennifer Saunders also pop up for a bit. I love Gonzo and Rizzo as Jim’s unlikely pals and Miss Piggy in an inspired gender twist as “Benjimina” Gunn. AND THE MUSIC. I dare you to not sing “Sailing for Adventure” all day every day, as I do. Unfortunately, either because I’d seen this one just too many times or because I have grown up just a teeny bit, I wasn’t quite as infatuated with Muppet Treasure Island as I remembered. Still awesome, just not the best thing ever. I will say though that Rizzo’s rat cruise is one of my favorite sub-plots of any movie.

4/5

PS I’m in Toronto this week! Updating may be spotty. Toronto After Dark, hurray!!!

Location-Based Musicals Double Feature: On the Town (1949) and On the Riviera (1951)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, both from my personal collection.

I was in a serious musical mood the other day and was so pleased to re-discover my On The Town dvd. I realized it goes well with a recent surprise gift from my totally awesome grandma, On the Riviera. And so a double feature was born! Both films are musicals from around the same time, though they approach the genre differently, with spontaneous singing and dancing in the former and stage numbers only in the latter. Both also utilize their locations quite specifically, with beautiful shots of On The Town‘s New York City and On the Riviera‘s Southern France setting the tone for their respective story lines. Plus they both have mistaken/confused identities! I love that!

When three close but totally-not-gay sailors are given 24 hours of shore leave in New York City, they each have different priorities. Chip (Frank Sinatra) wants to see the sights, Ozzie (Jules Munchin) wants to see some ladies, and Gabey (Gene Kelly) wants to stalk the lovely “Miss Turnstiles” (Vera-Ellen), a nightclub dancer he mistakes for a celebrity. The three team up with Hildy (Betty Garrett), a cab driver with moxie, and Claire (Ann Miller), a sensual anthropologist, to track her down. Various hi-jinks and musical numbers ensue.

Written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, On the Town is an earlier pairing of the dream team behind Singin’ in the Rain. It’s got the trademark wit and smarm paired with lively dance numbers and a lot of great NYC locations (this is possibly the first musical to be filmed outside of a studio set?). The songs are fun, though I’d say “New York, New York” is the only really memorable one. Well, that and “Come Up to My Place”, Sinatra’s hilarious duet with Garrett. The cast is what makes this one, with just an absolutely stellar group of 6 leads who all play off one another remarkably well. I love me some Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, but Betty Garrett is the one who stands out the most (and has the most fun) as the brassy Hildy, a working girl who knows what she wants and doesn’t care who knows it. I liked her spunk. And Miller gets a surprisingly sexual number in her intro scene, which I appreciated. Both of these women are really quite forward and in control of their romantic situation, which is pretty cool for a fluffy 1949 musical I’d say.

The film as a whole is a bit too dated for me to really love, and the story is laughably thin, but it’s one of the first classic musicals I ever watched, plus my high school did it for the spring play when I was in stage crew, so it certainly holds a lot of nostalgic enjoyment for me.

4/5

Based on the play The Red Cat (with a screenplay co-written by Nora Ephron’s mom!), On the Riviera stars Danny Kaye as both American stage comedian Jack Martin and famed philandering French pilot Henri Duran, both living along the titular French coast. When it becomes clear that the two look almost exactly alike, Martin is employed by Duran’s friends to impersonate the pilot at a party, hoping to fool a man he owes money to. Martin’s romance with his stage partner Colette (Corinne Calvet) and Duran’s strained marriage to Lil (Gene Tierney) are both at risk when the switch takes place.

Seemingly incapable of playing only one person, Kaye is yet again able to shine in multiple roles as both the charismatic, stuffy pilot who seems to have inexhaustible luck with the ladies (where does he find the time!?), and the goofy, talented stage comedian. He gets to make out with both Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet, so I guess that was a big incentive as well. The story is loose and predictable, but it showcases its stars well (though Calvet doesn’t get much to do) and there are some great musical numbers. I especially like Kaye’s soft-spoken rendition of “Ballin’ the Jack“. The film as a whole isn’t the most memorable, but it has some very funny and enjoyable moments, including various mistaken identity jokes and digs at Duran’s stamina. You know me, if Danny Kaye is around I’m satisfied.

3.5/5