Just Wright (2010)

Just Wright (2010) – How did Queen Latifah get that scar? Is it common knowledge?… She’s 40+ playing a realistic 35. Makeup! She’s another entry on the long list of women working after 40 (along with Pam Grier in the movie), once a rarity, now a commonplace… Common, btw, plays an NBA all-star. The cameraman in several shots makes him look shorter than Queen herself. With Rajon, Dwight, Dwayne, and Jalen all in the frame with him, it’s important that Common not look too small. Plus, in the romance scenes, it’s best not to have Queen’s head look 50% larger than his. And how come at 38, a top NBA player and future Hall-of-Famer, he’s still single, but then falls hard for a transparent gold-digger like the Paula Patton character? And… and… wait a minute… “Common”? Who the heck is “Common”? My God, life is passing me by. I wouldn’t know Common if he snuck up and bit me on the ass. The man had a feud with Ice Cube in the ’90s. How could I not know that? Somebody go update the man’s Wiki page. I think that it stops three or four years ago.

Well, I wanted rom com and I got rom com, because Latifah and Common have chemistry and whatever that means, whatever that is, it’s all you need to make the long wait for the final clinch worthwhile… I liked the movie. It’s got a great example of the it’ll-be-a-while-before-we-smooch-but-now-our-lips-need-to-get-accidentally-close-to-each-other’s-and-we-both-need-to-look-a-little-shocked-with-a-hey-i-think-i’m-in-love-expression-stealing-over-our-faces. In the final clinch, the skinny muscular dude has  got an armful.

Movie notes:

I need to watch Chris Rock’s Good Hair (200), wherein Rock “explores the wonders of African-American hairstyles.” Latifah, Patton, and Grier don’t have a single curl among them.

Nice touch: the 40-year-old’s parents counseling her about meeting the  right man.

Class: the piano scenes feature a Steinway.

Checking the producers: Queen’s got her own money in it.

Common’s mother is described as “a pill.” I’m glad to see that the expression is still used.

The meet cute happens at a gas station where Queen and Common are pumping their own gas; you can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey.

I checked out that scar. Happened when Queen was three, playing with her brother. She tripped over a phone cord and bonked her head.

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You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

You know how directors film Tom Cruise and Pacino and other short guys so that they seem of normal height? Jimmy Stewart was 6′ 3″ and Jean Arthur was 5′ 3″ and in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Stewart looks like he could dribble Arthur down the court if he wanted to. Did Capra shoot them that way, the tall and the short, on purpose, or  had he not learned how to do the framing trick that would make them seem more equal? Fast forward to something like The Stratton Story (1949) and I’ll bet you don’t see Stewart looming over June Allyson, who was 3″ shorter than Arthur. Something to look into.

YCTIwY is based on the Kaufman and Hart Pulitzer-winning play and it’s Capra at his life-and-America-are-grand best, and offhand, I can’t think of a sadder and more dispiriting movie to sit watching, if while listening to Barrymore’s speech about “isms” or his disinclination to pay any taxes since they’ll only be spent on battleships,  you happen at the same time to be pondering the fact that the movie was made in 1938. Like attending a wedding one day before the groom’s regiment leaves for the front.

But assuming that you’re not brooding about the past in that way while you watch, YCTIwY carries you along like the Rapids Ride at the Manhattan Water Park. Watching it at the same time as She’s Out of My League (2010), I realized how tightly it’s made. The two movies: one, knitting, the other, crochet. In the time that it takes Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve to consume their dinner outdoors in downtown Pittsburgh, YCTIwY has run down the rails from a xylophone number to a gunpowder accident, with Arthur’s visit to Stewart’s parents thrown in.

(Parenthetically, as indicated by the parentheses, there is a scene at the beginning of SOoML in which Alice Eve walks through the Pittsburgh airport, stopping all male traffic as she strides along in her red high heels, preceded by her cleavage and posterierceded by her flowing blond hair. We’re required to suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit because, although she is looking mighty fine in the scene, and is backed by a supportive musical soundtrack, maybe she’s not… quite… that fine. But we get the point. The thing is, I was reminded of my first job after college, wherein I sat at a desk in a very large room filled exclusively with men of all ages dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and dark ties. Every afternoon at two, the boss’ daughter pushed a mail cart through the room. We knew that she was coming because there was another room just like ours through the doorway to the south and we could hear the silence fall there at one fifty-five. This young innocent with her cart and Virgin-Mary blank stare and exaggerated secondary characteristics, dressed like a Burger-King hooker, was the prototype, the ur-babe, the apotheosis of show-stoppers. No one, including yours truly, could get enough of her. Then when she had passed on to the next room to the north and the cone of silence moved out with her, we all  slumped back in our chairs in unison, shaking our heads, rolling up our fingers in our ties, spent.)

Watching Barrymore also brought me down somewhat for another reason, as I was reminded of his brother’s downward spiral into terminal alcoholism, whereas I was drinking Pepsodent-flavored Mogen David out of the kids’ Donald Duck bathroom cup because there was nothing else in the house but the Everclear we use to cook pork-chops flambe.

But whatever else, the movie did jerk some tears, happy tears, in the end.

Movie notes:

– The best thing that ever happened to Capra was hooking up with Stewart.

– Back in ’38,”giving 110%” was already in the dialog.

– So was “arrested for selling dope.”

– I wonder if the saying-the-blessing-at-the-dinner-table scenes carried a different resonance in ’38 than they do today?

– Kaufman and Hart have the wise old Barrymore in the end sell his house, causing the whole neighborhood to be dispossessed without him saying boo about it. Odd? Or does all come right so quickly after that that the playwrights considered themselves off the hook?

– The best part of the movie for me was Edward Arnold demonstrating his powerful onscreen presence whilst throwing his weight around.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

I like to go to plays. Not Broadway extravaganzas, but community and university theater productions. Unfortunately, my spouse doesn’t share this interest, which cuts back on my dramatical attendance, except when our daughter comes home for a visit. Fortunately, stage plays find their way onto the silver screen, and found their way to it even more in the 30s and 40s than today. Modern examples of the play-on-film would be Bug (2006) and Doubt: a Parable (2008), which I have reviewed. Unfortunately, we are not living in the age of Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, and Tennessee Williams, except insofar as revivals and remakes allow us to do so. With all due respect, John Patrick Shanley, Tony or no Tony, is no Kaufman or Hart, the two who wrote the play from which  The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) derives, via the Epstein twins’ screenplay(the Epsteins of Casablanca fame).

TMWCTD is a comedy of great verbal energy, many fun cogs and wheels and conversational gizmos, jokes, gags, all done on the level of a New Yorker parlor drama. They don’t make them like this anymore – so dense, so many moving parts. As I watched Married Life (2007) the other night, I detected faint echoes from those lost days. Do I subscribe to the theory that civilization is headed downhill because of this and other portents? Nope, and besides, weighing and judging civilization and its components is far beyond my capacity to grok, at least in 1,000 words or less. (Do I believe the planet and the human race are headed downhill? Ulp!) But just because I don’t expect another TMWCTD to roll off the assembly line in 2010 doesn’t mean that I’ll have no chance to laugh at a movie. I watched Reno 911:Miami (2007)  again the other night with my spouse, and because she liked it, perhaps I’ll get to watch all 5 seasons again. Yay! In my defense, I think that the Marx brothers would like it too. And She’s Out of Your League (2010)? Not in TMWCTD’s league, but still, life is still good on the couch.

Most of  the topical content in TMWCTD has aged out, evaporated, leaving behind in the dialog a foundation of basic comic ideas: gone for most of us are an appreciation of Lucius Beebe’s penguins and octopus, Lana Turner’s sweater, Zazu Pitts, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and the larger-than-life Alexander Woolcott, who spent a weekend with Moss Hart, prompting Hart to wonder out loud, My God, what if he never left? and the play’s premise was born.

In TMWCTD, Jimmy Durante is funnier than I remember. Younger, too. Who fills the Durante niche in comedy today?  There’s bound to be someone. Early Jim Carey? It’s got to be someone who mugs outrageously and with unflagging energy. Vintage Robin Williams? Durante, suddenly seeming more  modern to me, makes me doubt the trope that some classic aspect of  screwball stage comedy is gone and isn’t coming back; perhaps it’s all just cycles and cycles and only a matter of time before we’ve gone in retrospect from Touch of Mink to Mash to Airplane to Knocked Up and back to Coconuts again. An extra four billion folks have arrived on the planet since TMWCTD was written. Even if they simply act like monkeys with typewriters, lost or missing dialogic brilliance ought to crop up now and again, out of the chaotic randomosity of crowds. Or will we just keep getting more video games instead? Great Britain bans EA’s Medal of Honor because it allows you to play on the side of the Taliban. That’s comedy, isn’t it?

Glenda the good witch works in TMWCTD without her wand.

Anne Sheridan plays the whole movie overdressed, but shows up 30s style for one scene in a thin silk blouse, confronting the camera face-to-face, so to speak, and proving without a doubt that she’s a mammal.

I’ve noticed more than once that watching two movies at the same time, interleaved as it were, or one after the other, offers perspectives that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, I saw Ameracord (1973) one Friday night in San Diego, followed by The Godfather (1972) on Saturday. Fellini’s artistry made The Godfather, seen so soon after, seem rather amateurish to me. Now that The Godfather has entered the pantheon of great films, any crudeness in its fabrication goes largely unnoticed. Every so often, when I stop to think about this, I feel privy to a cinematical secret, just because of that Friday and Saturday a long time ago. In the present instance, the two overlapping movies are TMWCTD and Repo Men (2010). Sure, there are chuckles in both, but in this example we learn that just talking at each other real fast can pack a punch greater than that felt by  cutting the other guy open, reaching inside him, and hauling out his mechanical stomach while wise-cracking about it. Just sayin.

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Bob Hope was 44 when he made My Favorite Brunette (1947). He lived to be 100, which gave him plenty of time to get old and then older and then move into “Wow. Is he still alive?” territory. Sort of like Woody Allen, only worse. Bob Hope, money-making canny real estate investor. Bob Hope, going blind, blinder, blindest. Bob Hope in Southern California and Bing Crosby in Northern California, both growing increasingly crusty, crabby, inveigled in family feuds. So forth. I lived in the same area as Bing and the celebrity chatter was a pain in the ass. Crosby was born the same year as Hope but died at 74, so the aggravation didn’t last as long.  And ditto for Dorthy Lamour, sitting in cocktail lounges and grousing over her drink about getting old and how Hope and Crosby dropped her like a hot potato when the first wrinkle creased her brow.

But now all three have moved along to that big movie studio in the sky and we can sit back and enjoy their movies without feathers. Although come to think of it, those of us who put up with their travails in later life are now ourselves beginning to follow the three of them, heading as we are one-by-one for that celestial loge seating – with  The Sound of Music (1965) being the only movie playing up there, as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman point out in their novel  Good Omens. And speaking of The Sound of Music, huzzahs to Julie Andrews for playing Queen of the Fairies in Tooth Fairy (2010), wherein she sets Dwayne Johnson straight in that regal way of hers, even if the movie wasn’t as funny as it could have been, according to Mayo and Kermode  (hello to Jason Isaacs). Hey, Mark, most comedies aren’t as funny as they could have been,  so does your range of consideration encompass the complete distance between Not Funny At All and As Funny As It Could Have Been? Because that range includes everything from One Chuckle to That Was Just About Perfect But Not Quite.

So, My Favorite Brunette. Not as funny as it could have been, but had some chuckles in it. A clever bit of slapstick between Hope and Peter Lorre.  Hope’s timing and comic turns kept reminding me strongly of someone but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who till 3/4 through, at which point Hope’s timing, moves, and self-deprecating patter seemed pure Woody Allen. Allen was 14 when this movie came out. Allen says that Hope was a big influence on him until he (Hope) moved to TV and got lazy; Allen sold his first joke to Hope when he (Allen) was a teenager; he could have used the quips in My Favorite Brunette as models later on, and probably did. (Hope ended up with 89,000 pages of jokes – a million punch lines. Is that weird? A giraffe walks into a bar – the punch line is something about high balls.)

On a personal note, the movie includes a shot of California near Stockton in San Francisco. I would have been 3 and my older sister 5 at the time. I scanned the pedestrians on the sidewalk for signs of us with our mom and dad. We were living in the Outer Sunset on 46th at the time. No luck.

Movie moments:

– Hope and Lamour are shown flying relaxedly from S.F. to Washington on a DC-3.  The last trip I took on a DC-3 was like going through a car wash in an oil drum.

– Hope breaks the 4th wall twice.

– Whenever a closeup of Lamour would come on, I’d try to remember what the closeup situation is in movies today.

– Hope secretly records a conversation using a modern (for ’47) device, which recorded onto a blank 78 record.

– Multiple use of peering through keyholes, including a hotel-room keyhole.

– Hotel windows that open. I dropped a thing or two out of those back in the day.

– Hope discovers an empty whiskey bottle in a chandelier and says, “Hmm. Ray Milland was here.”

This was the first movie made by Hope’s own production company. Hope was  a Top Ten star into the ’50s. He gave Peter Lorre a role in this one because the man needed money. I just noticed that Lorre appeared in a five-part episode of 77 Sunset Strip, one of my faves in the late 50s.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary) (1993)

dear diary, i just watched a movie that has your italian cousin caro diario in it. now don’t be jealous that caro diario appears in a big old color movie, whereas you’re just a little bitty blog diary. don’t be jealous that nanni moretti puts his little diary up on the big screen and and then writes into it there, or that nanni’s so popular and witty and a real know-it-all, whereas you are typed into every day by a nobody who got caught one time with panties on his head. and finally, don’t be jealous that whereas i lie to you all the time so that the wife and kids won’t find out, nanni includes himself and his wife silvia right up there on the screen along with his little diary, and if he works up a heavy sweat, if you know what i mean, in a movie like quiet chaos, he can always tell silvia that he was just acting. although i hope that his twelve-year-old son doesn’t see him doing what he did in that one, at least not until the boy grows up a little bit more. and when, i mean if, i ever do some heavy sweating like that, i’m keeping it to myself, dear diary! you won’t need to know and neither will the wife.

besides, d.d., nanni is sort of like me – popular where he lives but who else knows him? whereas i’m popular in my backyard, but only when i’m throwing buddy his rag bone or pouring purina into his dinner bowl. so hold your head up high, dear little diary, because you know why? eyes are reading you right now! whereas in the big city down there on the flats, with its i-don’t-know-how-many libraries, caro diario is to be found only in the old carnegie free branch over by the cooling towers, on a vhs tape in a cardboard box! so sad.

nanni made caro in three parts:

part one – while he putt-putts around rome on his vespa, i am cruising pea gap on helga’s old huffy. nanni shouts beautiful slogans and that makes him grow beautiful (he says), whereas i squawk at the pickininnies and they pull on my sheet. just kidding. i pass harry and leonard sitting on harry’s porch. one day harry and leonard will be inside with the door closed and after that they’ll either be back on the porch or off to discover the world, who knows which? dillian is planting lillies in front of the church. leonarda is in the cemetery lying down on a yellow tablecloth, practicing for when she goes there and doesn’t come back. when i was in high school, there were scooters all over the place, mostly cushmans. where are they now? nanni says that there is a bridge in rome that he needs to cross twice a day (well, he can’t cross it just once, i guess, and still get back home); so i’m crossing pea creek on the huffy, dear diary, on those two-by-fours that the noxapater clan laid down after the last storm washed away their sorry little excuse for a bridge.

in part two, nanni travels around the aeolian islands with a friend who hasn’t watched tv in 30 years. my nanny never watched tv. she could stand on the tail of her bear rug and expectorate a stream of tobacco juice into a hills bros coffee can balanced on the nose of the bear, making the can ring like a bell. she would dunk the head of the bear in a pail of water once a year on easter to clean off the residue of her misses.

in part three, nanni gets sick. tumor. it don’t look good for nanni. mild spoiler: 15 years later, at 55, he’s still kicking. at first he just itched, dear diary, whereas i’ve got this godawful boil that makes me wonder how the hell i rode around the hamlet on that huffy all afternoon. nanni goes to doctors, whereas i use my special “medicine” from the pine grove half a mile up the hill. then nanny applies a poultice to the area and gives me a high colonic, though she don’t call it that. so don’t get sick, and if you want a horror film, forget saw or hostel and go find a documentary about cancer. also, quit watching so many movies and go help somebody who needs your help.

what a thinker nanni is, d.d.! you won’t catch him doing analogy or metaphor in this movie, no more than i do in you. he spits out the facts, straight onto the subtitles. although come to think of it, when he was riding around rome, there was no traffic, whereas on one of the islands that he visits, traffic is gridlocked and honking about it. could that mean something? can irony be metaphor?

anyway, thank you to duder for recommending the movie. it was good and it got me going. tomorrow, dear diary, i’m watching guadacanal diary and then taking my .22 out into the field to plink varmints. then i’m going to italy for three weeks to visit cinquefrondi, mammola, and grotteria on a rented vespa. ciào for now.

The Invention of Lying (2009). I liked it. What does that prove?

I was on Ricky Gervais’ wavelength from frame one to fadeout of this film. I laughed when I was meant to laugh, I teared up when cued by the score. I sat imagining a movie starring Jennifer Garner and Hilary Swank playing sisters, but that’s just a jaw thing. I enjoyed the movie.

When it was over, it occurred to me to wonder whether there was any connection between my enjoyment of it and its artistic merit, if any. Does liking something make it art? Of course not. So is artistic merit 100% orthogonal to enjoyment? Or can there be some relative connection? If, for example, I like a movie but 99 others don’t, does that lessen the possibility that cinematic art has been created? What if all 100 of us like it? I mean, the director sets out, in many cases, to make something we’ll like; if he succeeds, doesn’t art play a part?

I suppose that questions like these reflect aspects of the larger “What is art?” question. I remember nothing from my art-history and aesthetics courses. A visit to Wikipedia would probably provide me with lots of answers, but I’d rather just think about it for a couple of minutes and then move on.

Because it does bother me a little that I could watch, laugh, cry, enjoy, knowing that my reactions may have nothing to do, probably have nothing to do, absolutely have nothing to do (which is it?) with the artishness of the thing. Doesn’t seem right.

I mean, could I love a movie that is absolutely devoid of artistic merit of any kind?

Later: ok, after a lot of thought on the matter, I have concluded that if I like a movie, it automatically has artistic merit, even if I watched it in an impaired state or at a time of severe mental disequilibrium. This would include Norbit and The Love Guru. If I don’t like a movie, I allow that it might still contain some artistic merit. This would include Metropolis and Sunrise. As I said to Roger Ebert the other night while explaining how all this works, if you like a movie and I don’t, then artistic merit is not automatically conferred upon it. Who knows what weird stuff you’re liable to like? But now if you can explain to me why a movie that I don’t like has artistic merit, and I buy your explanation, no matter how wrong-headed and tinfoil-hatted it may be, then that’s ok, unless I change my mind later and decide that your explanation is actually rubbish. I feel a lot better having cleared this up for myself.

You ask, what if I (me, not you) love a movie but decide in my heart and mind that it is trash, or at least trashy? Doesn’t matter. In that case it has artistic merit that I can’t see right off the bat, or I wouldn’t have loved it in the first place.

What if I have a love/hate thing going with some movie? That means artistic merit. Probably even more than I would ever be able to know.

Finally, if a movie has twelve tons of artistic merit but I’d hate it if I watched it, then you go watch it and report back. You’ll probably love it.

Homo Erectus (2007)

aka National Lampoon’s Stoned Age. NL has produced a closetful of clunkers over the years, but Adam Rifkin gets this genre film right, the genre being Movies To Watch While You’re Drunk. I was and it was.

It’s all here:

David Carradine as MooKoo, proving once again that he will do literally anything for a paycheck. He’s especially good in the scenes where he’s carrying his head under his arm. (Ed.: Written before the man checked out. RIP. Loved you in Hell Ride. Nice callback to Dennis Hopper in Modern Romance.)

Talia Shire as his wife, mother of the clan, who will do anything for a fur, even if it’s off an australeamoustisimus.

Ron Jeremy as Oog, who doesn’t show it, but at this point doesn’t really have to anymore. Anybody who cares has memorized it by now.

Gary Busey as Krutz, who doesn’t have to act crazy to be crazy.

Ali Larter as Fardart, showing off the best set of prehistoric choppers in film history, although Raquel Welch still beats her from the neck down.

Carol Alt as Queen Fallopia. “You turn me down?? Every Neanderthal between here and the volcano wants to get into this lizard-skin thong!”

Kansas Carradine as the pregnant cavewoman. David’s daughter adds her oiled belly to several of the scenes wherein the women drop their pelts.

and Adam Rifkin, who gets hit in the head by large rocks twenty, no, twenty-two, no… I was too far gone to keep track.

The movie poses the question, If you paste large shaggy patches of fake pubic fur over the female actors’ actual areas, is that still full-frontal, or what?