Monday, December 31, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Made for Each Other (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The marital melodrama MADE FOR EACH OTHER (1939), starring Carole Lombard and James Stewart, was released on Blu-ray and DVD last month by Kino Lorber.

Kino Lorber has rescued MADE FOR EACH OTHER, seen for decades in poor public domain prints, with a beautiful restored release. Kino Lorber's website says it's "a brand-new HD master from a 2K scan of the restored fine grain master."

I saw MADE FOR EACH OTHER as a teenager but, despite my liking for the lead actors, I had not revisited it in the years since, partly as I remembered it being rather sad and partly because of poor print quality.

It now looks terrific, and as it turns out it's also a better film than I remembered. Yes, it has its sad and frustrating moments, but it's also the touching story of two young people working to surmount difficulties with career and family.

Lombard's career took a more serious turn in 1939, as she branched out from starring in screwball comedies. MADE FOR EACH OTHER was followed in short order by two more melodramas, IN NAME ONLY (1939) with Cary Grant and VIGIL IN THE NIGHT (1940) with Brian Aherne; I saw the latter film at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Lombard's costar James Stewart was nearing the top of the career ladder, having starred in Frank Capra's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) the previous year; MADE FOR EACH OTHER was followed by a bumper crop of films in 1939-40 including MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), THE MORTAL STORM (1940), and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940), which netted him a Best Actor Oscar.

In MADE FOR EACH OTHER Lombard and Stewart play Jane and John Mason, who as the film begins have impulsively married shortly after meeting. John's domineering mother (Lucile Watson) doesn't take kindly to the news, collapsing when she's told, and John's law firm boss (Charles Coburn) isn't happy either, pulling John and Jane off the ship as they're about to leave for their honeymoon so that John can handle a trial.

As time goes on the Masons deal with financial frustrations and difficulties due to John's lack of career advancement, and living in close quarters with John's nagging mother is also a challenge. One New Year's Eve, they wonder if they made a mistake marrying, but their baby boy's sudden illness quickly changes their perspectives.

I enjoyed this superbly acted, sensitive movie quite well. Lombard and Stewart are as good as one would expect, charming yet increasingly weighted down by problems which begin to seem insurmountable. There are also joys; the scene where Lombard walks out of her doctor's office in a daze, having just learned she's to become a mother, is delightful.

The characters of the mother-in-law and the boss threaten to become stock caricatures, but at the same time they represent problems faced by many couples, so in the end it works. A scene where the exhausted Jane sits on a sofa feeding her baby while her mother-in-law fusses in the background is particularly well done.

I adored Louise Beavers in a small role as Lily, a maid who is able to tolerate not only the mother-in-law but not being paid. When Jane feels she's drowning in problems, Lily wisely counsels Jane not to let the seeds spoil the watermelon, but to spit them essence telling her you only live once and enjoy every moment possible, despite the co-existing problems. One can't help but feel uplifted after watching the warm-hearted, kind Beavers in this scene.

The supporting cast includes Donald Briggs (perfectly smarmy as John's office colleague), Eddie Quillan, Ward Bond, Esther Dale, Harry Davenport, Alma Kruger, Robert Elliott, Olin Howland, and Nella Walker.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER was directed by John Cromwell and filmed in black and white by Leon Shamroy. The screenplay was by Jo Swerling and an uncredited Frank Ryan, based on a story by Rose Franken (CLAUDIA). It runs 92 minutes.

Extras include the trailer and an audio commentary by Lee Gambin.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

To celebrate the holiday, here's wonderful Ann Blyth in a classic New Year's studio publicity still from the mid '50s:

Best wishes to all for a wonderful 2019!

Previous classic film New Year's photos: Joan Leslie, Anita Louise, Dorothy Patrick, Mona Freeman, Joan Caulfield, and Esther Williams.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Tonight's Movie: B.F.'s Daughter (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Polly Fulton, otherwise known as B.F.'S DAUGHTER (1948), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This is an Archive release from several years ago, but as I periodically remind readers, Warner Archive films are manufactured on demand, so even older titles remain as available now as they were when they were first released.

B.F.'S DAUGHTER is a pretty good marital melodrama which held my attention throughout, thanks largely to Stanwyck, who's in virtually every scene in the movie.

Polly, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, is semi-engaged to a childhood friend, Bob (Richard Hart), but the proper and rigid Bob refuses to marry until he makes partner at his law firm.

Polly falls in love with Tom Brett (Van Heflin), a financially strapped writer and professor she meets in a bar. She likes him enough to take him home to sew a button back on his jacket; he's in shock over the size of the family mansion -- and her mother (Spring Byington) is in shock to see Polly wielding a needle and thread!

Polly impulsively agrees to marry Tom when they've known each other only 24 hours, to the dismay of both Bob and her father.

Polly and Tom initially live in a small cabin, on Tom's financial terms. Unbeknownst to Tom, Polly offers a financial guarantee to a speaking tour promoter, which launches Bob's career as a pundit and "wise man" who becomes active in Washington political circles. Tom, who disdains Polly's money, is upset when he later learns this secondhand, despite the fact that he was responsible for his ultimate success.

Polly and Tom struggle with their marriage, while Bob marries Polly's best friend, "Apples" (Margaret Lindsay), and Polly's father struggles with his health.

That's the broad outline of the story, which may not sound particularly scintillating, yet I found it quite absorbing. Although I generally like Heflin very much, he's quite irritating in this film, but then I guess he's supposed to be. (I really felt Polly's pain when late in the film she berates him for having been "mean" to her father.) Stanwyck carries the film as tenacious Polly, well supported by Coburn, Lindsay, Hart, and Byington.

Coburn has a beautiful moment as the doting father who is crushed to learn his only child is going to abandon her plans to wed staid but honorable Bob; he tears up but pretends the sun is in his eyes and closes the blinds. It's a quiet but very moving piece of acting.

Byington likewise has a great scene illustrating her character's innate cluelessness and kindness; when Tom sarcastically offers a toast to B.F., "from whom all blessings flow," Byington's character takes his words literally and sweetly says how nice it was. Again, a lovely moment which reveals much about her character.

Keenan Wynn is, like Heflin, fairly annoying as a radio editorialist who constantly gets things wrong. Marshall Thompson has a small role as well.

B.F.'S DAUGHTER was produced with the usual MGM high gloss. It may not be as entertaining as the melodrama Stanwyck and Heflin made at the studio the following year, EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949), but I found it definitely worth seeing.

B.F.'S DAUGHTER was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and filmed in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg. The screenplay by Luther Davis was based on a novel by John P. Marquand. The movie's running time is 108 minutes.

The print and sound of the Warner Archive DVD were both very good. There are no extras on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Janie (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

JANIE (1944) is part of a two-film double feature set just released by the Warner Archive. It's paired with the sequel JANIE GETS MARRIED (1946). I'm really delighted that these films have finally come to DVD!

Joyce Reynolds stars as the titular Janie, a giddy (and slyly manipulative) high schooler who's part of a lively high school crowd. She may be young, but she's ready to push her longtime beau Scooper (Richard Erdman) aside in favor of a Yale man in uniform (Robert Hutton) who comes for a visit with his mother Thelma (Barbara Brown).

Thelma is an old friend of Janie's parents, newspaper publisher Charles Conway (Edward Arnold) and his wife Lucille (Ann Harding). Janie's annoying young sister Elsbeth (Clare Foley) and housekeeper April (Hattie McDaniel) round out the Conway household.

Janie's father frets over his boy-crazy daughter, never more so than when an Army camp opens near their town. Little does he know what's in all builds to a riotous party in the Conway home with soldiers (and one sailor) everywhere, not to mention MP's and the police!

This is a fun family comedy somewhat in the vein of the DEAR RUTH (1947) films and WALLFLOWER (1948), all of which featured Arnold as the father; Reynolds, Hutton, and Brown also appeared in WALLFLOWER. It's not quite as charming as either DEAR RUTH or WALLFLOWER, due in part to the relentless nature of Reynolds' character, but it's a fun watch.

I have always enjoyed Reynolds and especially like her in a more subdued role in WALLFLOWER, as well as in a smaller role as one of the sisters in THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943). Her Janie never quite achieves the level of realism as her role in WALLFLOWER, I think in part because of how the role is written; she goes from one zany experience to the next, seemingly without ever pausing for breath -- or thinking things through. She's fun, but we never really know what's going on inside.

Similarly, with the exception of a couple of scenes with Harding, Arnold's mostly one note in this, continually exasperated by his daughters (and with good reason...).

Reynolds and Hutton are an appealing team; in addition to WALLFLOWER they also costarred in ALWAYS TOGETHER (1947). The supporting cast also includes Robert Benchley, whose character is living with the family and courts Thelma.

In the climactic party scenes look for the Williams Brothers to sing, and Jimmie Dodd of THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB is also on hand. Julie London can be spotted in the crowd as well! Janie's friends include Colleen Townsend, Ann Gillis, and Virginia Patton (Ruth in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE).

Happily several cast members are still alive today, including Reynolds, Erdman, Townsend, Patton, and Don Williams. Gillis just passed on earlier this year.

The supporting cast also includes Alan Hale (Sr.), Virginia Sale, Russell Hicks, Ruth Tobey, Sunset Carson, Lane Chandler, Monte Blue, and Jackie Moran, who like Gillis was a star of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938) a few years previously.

JANIE was energetically directed by Michael Curtiz. It was filmed in black and white by Carl E. Guthrie. The running time is 102

Most of the cast reunited for JANIE GETS MARRIED, released two years later, with the exception of Reynolds; she was replaced by Joan Leslie.

For more on JANIE, please enjoy posts at Greenbriar Picture Shows and Cin-Eater.

JANIE and JANIE GETS MARRIED are paired on a single disc. The JANIE print was fine; I felt that some of the dialogue was uncharacteristically muffled, prompting me to rewind in a couple of spots and turn it up to catch everything that was said. There are no extras in the set.

Look for a review of JANIE GETS MARRIED here at a future date! (Update: Here is my review of JANIE GETS MARRIED.)

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at Amazon or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year!! And best wishes to all for a wonderful 2019.

Kathryn Grayson will be the January Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies.

16 of Grayson's films will be shown on Tuesday evenings, beginning next week on January 8th. I'll have a closer look at the Grayson lineup posted here on January 7th. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Kathryn Grayson.)

On Tuesday evenings the TCM Spotlight will be focused on newspaper movies, and Thursday nights will be devoted to "Sword and Sandal" films.

The January Noir Alley titles are HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) on January 5th and 6th, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell (seen at right); LURED (1947) on the 12th and 13th, starring George Sanders and Lucille Ball; and MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) on the 19th and 20th, with Dick Powell and Claire Trevor. There doesn't appear to be a Noir Alley film the last weekend of January. (January 1st Update: The last weekend of January is dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the SAG Awards. Thanks to Mohammed for the heads up when the monthly highlights calendar was released by TCM today.)

A side note, I mentioned in my January preview that there seemed to be a number of films from the '70s and beyond airing in January, but a comparison of January with November by my friend Joel Williams shows there isn't much difference between those months. Good to know!

Here are a few of the interesting titles on the TCM schedule this month. Click any hyperlinked title for an in-depth review.

...Prime time on New Year's Day will feature a centennial birthday tribute to 20th Century-Fox star Carole Landis. Six Landis films will be shown, including the baseball movie IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH (1942) with Lloyd Nolan and the comedy HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME (1945) with Pat O'Brien and George Murphy.

...Lana Turner is seen at her most beautiful -- and with a killer wardrobe by Irene -- in MARRIAGE IS A PRIVATE AFFAIR ( 1944) on January 2nd.

...Marion Davies receives a nine-film birthday tribute on January 3rd. The only film in the lineup I've seen to date is EVER SINCE EVE (1937), which I found much better than reviews would indicate. I hope to see more Marion Davies films in 2019, especially as I have acquired some of her silent films on DVD.

...Jose Ferrer was born January 8, 1912, and TCM celebrates his birthday slightly in advance with a prime time tribute on the evening of January 4th. The three-film lineup includes THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) and CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1950), for which he won the Oscar as best actor.

...I had a wonderful experience seeing a nitrate print of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) in December. It's showing in prime time on January 6th. It's particularly notable TCM is showing it as it was released by 20th Century-Fox, and Fox films are relative rareties on TCM due to licensing costs.

...THE BAMBOO BLONDE (1946) is a short (68 minutes) and charming little musical starring Frances Langford, directed by Anthony Mann. It's airing on January 8th, with a repeat scheduled for January 22nd.

...I'm always looking for interesting little Westerns I haven't seen, and BAD GUY (1937) starring Bruce Cabot and Virginia Grey sounds like the kind of movie I enjoy trying out. It's on January 9th.

...January 10th is Paul Henreid's birthday. Among the seven Henreid films airing that day, I especially enjoy the noirish HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948), also known as THE SCAR. Joan Bennett costars.

...The clever theming on January 11th is a lineup of films with the numbers one through eight in the title. I reviewed THREE DARING DAUGHTERS (1948) with Jeanette MacDonald and Jane Powell last September. It's cute, tuneful, and colorful.

...I'm intrigued by the description of EMERGENCY CALL (1933) starring Bill "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd: "A promising surgeon discovers his hospital is run by gangsters." It's on January 14th.

...A documentary showing on the evening of the 14th sounds especially interesting: JAMES STEWART, ROBERT MITCHUM: THE TWO FACES OF AMERICA ( 2017).

...It's Margaret O'Brien's birthday on January 15th. Seven films and a short will be shown, and for good measure she also has a bit role in THOUSANDS CHEER (1943), showing as part of the Kathryn Grayson Star of the Month lineup. I've reviewed several of the films, including BAD BASCOMB (1946), BIG CITY (1948), LOST ANGEL (1943), and MUSIC FOR MILLIONS (1944). I have enjoyed them all. The films I haven't yet reviewed for this site are all particularly well worth seeing: THE SECRET GARDEN (1949), LITTLE WOMEN (1949), and especially OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945).

...THE MCGUERINS FROM BROOKLYN (1942) sounds interesting. It's the middle film in a trio of movies starring William Bendix and Grace Bradley (Boyd). It's on in the early morning hours on the 16th.

...Last spring I reviewed THE GAY BRIDE (1934) starring Carole Lombard and Chester Morris. It will be shown January 17th. The timing is apt to view the film as a tribute to Lombard, who died January 16th, 1942.

...A DANCER'S WORLD is a 30-minute documentary with choreographer Martha Graham, showing very early on the 21st.

...A day of WWII films on January 22nd includes the very fine HOMECOMING (1948), starring Clark Gable, Lana Turner, and Anne Baxter. It was one of my favorite discoveries of the year in 2014.

...January 24th features a lineup of "princess" films, including a favorite Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy film, NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935). Highly recommended.

...The always-delightful MGM musical THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) airs in the early morning hours of January 27th. Judy Garland leads a fabulous cast.

...An evening of Maureen O'Hara films on the 30th includes THE BLACK SWAN (1942), a lively Technicolor pirate adventure with Tyrone Power.

...January concludes in fine style with an entire day of "B" Westerns on January 31st. The titles include George O'Brien in TROUBLE IN SUNDOWN (1939) and Tim Holt in GUNS OF HATE (1948). Tim is seen at the left with Myrna Dell and Richard Martin.

For more information please visit TCM's online schedule as well as my Quick Preview of TCM in January.

Wishing everyone a great movie viewing year in 2019!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Today I saw Disney's MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018), a sequel to the studio's classic MARY POPPINS (1964).

MARY POPPINS holds an outsized role in my life as a classic film fan, being the first film I ever saw in a movie theater, not to mention the first Disney film I ever saw and my first exposure to Julie Andrews, who also starred in another film I love deeply, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

I made it a point, given that background, to go into MARY POPPINS RETURNS with fairly low expectations, as obviously this was not going to be "my" MARY POPPINS. And the film had in its favor the fact that MARY POPPINS originated as a long series of books which I had read and reread as a child, so the idea of a MARY POPPINS sequel wasn't completely unprecedented for me.

That said, while I wasn't really expecting to love it, I expected to like it quite a bit more than I did. Put this one in the "disappointing" column.

First, the good: Emily Blunt is wonderful in the title role, Dick Van Dyke is a marvel as Mr. Dawes Jr., the scenic production values are outstanding, the hand-drawn animation a delight to see in this computer-generated world, and there are a couple fairly good songs, "Underneath the Lovely London Sky" and "The Place Where Lost Things Go" by Scott Whitman and Marc Shaiman.

That's about it as far as my likes went. For me the rest of the film sadly alternated between dull and irritating.

This time around Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a recently widowed artist and bank teller who is raising three children: Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), and Georgie (Joel Dawson). (Continuity plus: In P.L. Travers' books there are three children born after Jane and Michael, the twins John and Barbara, then baby Annabel, so it was nice to see the names John and Anabel used in the film as Michael's children.) Michael's being aided by his single sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), who spends her time marching for workers' rights or some such thing, and the maid Ellen (Julie Walters).

Unfortunately Michael's doing a bad job of it, allowing the mortgage to go unpaid for three months because paying the bills was his wife's task. (Never mind that he's got three children to protect and house...) When Wilkins (Colin Firth) of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank wants to foreclose and insists the mortgage be paid in full, Michael also can't put his hands on a shares certificate which would provide the money to pay off the mortgage.

Enter Mary Poppins, who returns from the sky hanging on to the end of a kite. She gets to work reassuring the children and setting the Banks family to rights in her unique fashion.

Blunt's Mary falls somewhere between Andrew's vain but sweet portrayal and the sterner Mary of the P.L. Travers books. She's very good, although unfortunately her character is sometimes put in situations which make no sense. Case in point: During their animated adventure, she dances onstage in a music hall? Mary loved to take the children on crazy adventures -- the broken china bowl calls to mind a story from the books about a broken plate -- but I can't see the dignified Mary "letting loose" in such a fashion. Dance with chimney sweeps, sure, but the music hall routine, complete with flapper wig, was just odd.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is acceptable as Jack the lamplighter, but most of the characters are uninteresting. An attempt to recapture the magic of the original film's visit to Uncle Albert (Ed Wynn) comes when Mary takes the children to visit her cousin Topsy (Meryl Streep), who spends time living upside down. Frankly I thought Streep was terribly annoying and the entire sequence should have been cut to shorten the 130-minute running time.

As for Whishaw's character, what a wimp. Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) was troubled in the original film, but it came mostly from his attempts to work hard and provide for his children. Michael is the exact opposite, he's refusing to be an adult. Surely, he's grieving and can be forgiven for being stressed and distracted, but no parent should treat his children as Michael does, not only putting their home at risk but excessively burdening them with his problems and emotions, so that they must step into the adult role and turn him around. Rather different from Mary and Bert helping the children to better understand their father in the 1964 version; the nuances are just different enough to be troubling.

I also had difficulty believing in Jane's hinted-at cross-class romance with Jack; perhaps the filmmakers thought if Lady Sybil could marry the chauffeur on DOWNTON ABBEY, political activist Jane could romance a lamplighter, but I wasn't buying it.

Also, the director's deliberate use of colorblind casting pulled me out of the story as more than once I mulled whether the characters were realistic for 1930s London. Inclusion is wonderful -- I thought colorblind casting worked really well in the fairy tale world of Disney's live-action CINDERELLA (2015) -- but authenticity matters as well.

Angela Lansbury turns up as a "Balloon Lady" in the final sequence; it was nice to see her but it was more a "Here's beloved Disney star Angela Lansbury" moment than anything organic. Van Dyke's appearance, on the other hand, was "practically perfect in every way."

And as long as I'm quoting dialogue from the first film, I think it was a missed opportunity not to work in Bert's line from early in MARY POPPINS, "...I feel what's to happen all happened before." It would have been a nice nod to the first film and also made great thematic sense.

On the other hand, this sequel is too "by the numbers" in following the original film: An animated adventure sequence, a nursery lullabye, a visit to a crazy relative, a big concluding group number with balloons rather than kites...

Regular readers know I tend to be a "glass is half full" reviewer, focused more on the positives I take away from a film than what I don't like, but this film unfortunately largely didn't work for me. A number of reviewers and folks on social media like it more than I do, so potential viewers may want to try it. I was glad, at least, to have seen Emily Blunt's performance and to assess the film for myself.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS was directed and cowritten by Rob Marshall. It was filmed by Dion Beebe.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. I really don't know why. Characters in distress?

A trailer is here.

Related Post: Disneyland: The Art of Mary Poppins Returns.

More Mary Poppins Posts: Becoming Mary Poppins (December 14, 2005); Today at Disneyland: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! (Julie Andrews visit on April 8, 2008); Sherman Brothers Honored at Disneyland (Main Street tribute window dedicated on March 11, 2010); Today at Destination D: Disneyland '55 (Richard Sherman concert on September 24, 2010); Tonight's Theater: Mary Poppins (August 4, 2011); Disneyland: The Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe (January 29, 2012); Disney Composer Robert Sherman Dies at 86 (March 6, 2012); Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animation (Dick Van Dyke concert on August 11, 2012); 2013 D23 Expo: A Tribute to Mary Poppins (1964), Part One; 2013 D23 Expo: A Tribute to Mary Poppins (1964), Part Two; Tonight's Movie: Saving Mr. Banks (2013) at the Aero Theatre (Emma Thompson and Leonard Maltin in person).

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

I jumped into watching the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies today with the most recent entry in the series, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (2018).

This film follows five previous titles released between 1996 and 2015, directed by notables including Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, and J.J. Abrams.

I'd never seen any of the previous films so our daughter gave me a quick fill-in on the supporting characters' histories; I intend to back up and watch the entire series from the beginning, and perhaps after I've watched all five movies I'll rewatch this one to pick up on nuances I missed the first time around.

I had a great time watching MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT; I found it reminiscent of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne movies, with a touch of the delightfully improbable Fast & Furious films on the side.

I suspect many of my readers are already familiar with this long-running series, in which Tom Cruise plays Agent Ethan Hunt, who works for a top-secret U.S. agency doing jobs even the "regular" spies won't do. The classic TV series bit with the self-destructing message ("Your mission, should you choose to accept it...") takes place near the start of the film, and the pulse-pounding original TV theme music shows up regularly as well.

In this round Ethan, accompanied by fellow agents Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), is involved in tracking down nuclear weapons as well as playing "hot potato" with a nuclear scientist (Sean Harris), a holdover villain from the previous film MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (2015). MI6 Agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is either a help or a hindrance to Ethan's team, depending on the situation.

Henry Cavill plays August Walker, a CIA agent ordered by his boss (Angela Bassett) to shoot Ethan if he steps out of line. Also on hand for this story are Ethan's boss Alan (Alec Baldwin), his old flame Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and an arms broker known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby of THE CROWN).

This was a very well-done film which delivers exactly what an audience of this type of film expects, numerous brilliantly staged action set pieces interspersed with quieter moments of romance, humor, and suspense. The movie raises perplexing moral questions -- should someone save a friend when it means more lives are put at risk? -- yet overall it's a fairly lighthearted "summer action movie."

There are some truly delightful moments such as Benji asking Ethan over a headphone why he's hesitating to move and Ethan responds in exasperation, "I'm jumping out a WINDOW!" (And I'd love to know what was whispered between Ferguson and Monaghan's characters near the end...)

The stuntwork is truly breathtaking -- some of the shots done by Cruise himself. (He broke an ankle doing one jump.) I especially loved his run through familiar spots in London, including St. Paul's Cathedral and the exterior of the Tate Modern Gallery.

The only weak link is Cavill, who starts out appearing to be a promising character, with his imposing frame and gung-ho approach, but unfortunately reveals himself to be fairly wooden as the film goes on. He simply doesn't bring much to the character in the way of nuances and shadings; Cruise runs rings around Cavill in that regard.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who cowrote the screenplay with Bruce Geller. It was filmed by Rob Hardy. The running time is 147 minutes; although I'm a fan of shorter films, this one goes by quickly.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13, for non-gory violence and some language.

This film is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set or on DVD. It can also be purchased for streaming.

A trailer is here.

I'm quite looking forward to watching the rest of the series and will be reviewing them here as I see them!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Set It Up (2018)

A pair of exhausted executive assistants plot to induce their bosses to fall in love in SET IT UP (2018), an original Netflix romantic comedy.

Harper (Zoey Deutch) is an assistant to famed sports reporter Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who has left ESPN and is now running a website startup. Harper has been hanging on to her job in hopes of getting a writing break, but she's always too busy handling the minutiae of her boss's life to progress in her own career.

Elsewhere in the same building, Charlie (Glen Powell) works as assistant to Rick (Taye Diggs), a venture capitalist; Charlie is hoping for a promotion which will be the next step in his career advancement.

After a "meet cute" squabbling over rights to a late-evening food delivery for their bosses, Harper and Charlie get the idea that if their employers had something else to keep them busy -- like a relationship -- maybe they'd get to go home from work at a decent hour. To that end they arrange for Kirsten and Rick to be trapped in the building elevator, then seat them together at a Yankees game and pay someone to turn the "kiss cam" on the twosome. And so it goes, with Harper and Charlie finally having some time to enjoy life outside the office, until Rick and Kirsten are engaged.

There's only one problem: After the engagement is announced, Charlie and Harper eventually realize that Rick is two-timing Kirsten. What to do?

This was a very enjoyable and amusing film in many respects, and I have it on good authority that the depiction of an assistant's life is incredibly accurate. Knowing someone well who's "been there" made the movie a particularly entertaining watch for me.

Deutch and Powell are both appealing, and I also found Liu a lot of fun to watch. Liu brings a lot to the table with a multifaceted character who is simultaneously obnoxious and admirable. Diggs is unfortunately stuck playing a real jerk in every regard, without any character depth.

The only downside to this film is an inordinate amount of discussion using sexual terms, which gets very old very quickly. I find it hard to believe real people are that continuously crass in their everyday conversations, but maybe I hang out with a different crowd! So I recommend the film for an adult audience but with that qualification; a Hallmark family romance it's not.

SET IT UP was written by Katie Silberman and directed by Claire Scanlon. The movie was filmed by Matthew Clark.

SET IT UP streams on Netflix. The trailer is here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Day Wishes

Best wishes to all for a very happy Christmas!

I love this publicity photo of Alice Faye, a longtime favorite, delivering Christmas gifts.

Merry Christmas!

Previous Christmas Day photo posts: 2012 (the Lockhart Family), 2013 (Priscilla Lane), 2014 (Martha Hyer), 2015 (Andra Martin), 2016 (Betty Grable), and 2017 (Loretta Young).

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Aquaman (2018)

Another Sunday, another good superhero movie!

Last weekend I saw the animated film SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018) and really enjoyed it. Today I saw Jason Momoa starring as AQUAMAN (2018).

I wasn't much taken with last year's DC superhero film WONDER WOMAN (2017), although I loved lead actress Gal Gadot. I'm thus particularly happy to report that I thought the latest DC Universe film, AQUAMAN, was quite terrific. It combines impressive world building with emotional depth, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It's even got a cameo voice appearance by Julie Andrews!

In a tale which holds more than a little resemblance to Marvel's THOR (2011), AQUAMAN tells the story of "half-breed" Arthur Curry (Momoa), the son of a lighthouse keeper named Tom (Temuera Morrison) and Queen Atlanna of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman). (It's a long story...)

One day Princess Mera (Amber Heard of 3 DAYS TO KILL) shows up in Arthur's seaside town to tell him that his half brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is about to wage war on the "surface world," meaning Earth as we know it. She urges Arthur to return to the home he's never seen, Atlantis, claim his birthright and save the world.

That's the plot in broad outline, but there's much more to the film than that, starting with Momoa as a giant of a man who's powerful and quippy -- and also nursing a lot of hurt over his mother's seeming abandonment. His best moments include his entrance, when he enters a hijacked submarine with the sarcastic line "Permission to come aboard?" -- and a completely different moment, when he tears up at a reunion.

I loved Arthur's relationship with Mera, meeting one another as equals, each learning to respect and admire each other's abilities, as well as shrugging their shoulders over one another's quirks. (Arthur following Mera when she jumps out of a plane without a parachute is one such delightful moment, and there's turnabout when Mera later follows Arthur into a hole in the desert sand, not knowing what awaits.) Only after they have gotten to know one another well, near the end of the film, do we begin to see a romantic and physical relationship develop, which begins not with a kiss, but holding hands.

Mera and Atlanna are both strong yet feminine women and a wonderful balance for Arthur's reluctant hero. When Arthur finally claims his birthright, it's a thrilling moment -- and thanks in large part to the encouragement of these two women to believe that he has greatness inside.

The visuals in this film are transporting; it's the rare film which the viewer realizes is created by CGI yet is completely willing to believe. The underwater effects and set designs are extremely impressive.

The terrific supporting cast includes Willem Dafoe as Vulko, an Atlantean advisor who secretly spends time on the surface guiding Arthur through his childhood, training him for his future role.

The movie manages to avoid becoming overly bogged down in back story not only with the elliptical telling of Tom and Atlanna's relationship, but by incorporating the scenes with Vulko and Arthur as brief flashbacks scattered throughout the film. I must say I expected the worst outcome for Vulko when Orm learned he'd been plotting behind his back, and it was an added plus for me that what I feared didn't happen.

Dolph Lundgren plays Mera's father, King Nereus, with other roles played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Michael Park, Michael Beach, and John Rhys-Davies among a very large cast.

The film was directed by James Wan and filmed by Don Burgess.

The running time is 143 minutes and yes, it could have stood some trimming, which is about my only complaint. The producers probably could have saved a couple million and cut out a battle somewhere in order to shave a few minutes!

Parental Advisory: This film is a fairly mild PG-13, with the most disturbing moment probably being a drowning early on. Otherwise it's mostly non-bloody cartoon violence. There are many positives, including a hero growing into his role and learning to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. (Wait a minute, wrong DC superhero...but you get the idea.)

A trailer is here.

The audience gave AQUAMAN a nice round of applause after Momoa's final line. While applause is common at L.A. classic film screenings, it's fairly rare for me to experience that at new films, and AQUAMAN deserved it. A very entertaining afternoon at the movies, and a film I'll be happy to watch again in the future.

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