31 July 2013

Day 31: The "Perfect" Film

Day 31 of the 31 day film challenge: The “perfect” film.

On day one of this challenge I chose Casablanca as my favourite film. For the last day I’m going with another film that I love.

The Thin Man (1934) is the epitome of the perfect film. Directed in just two weeks by the efficient W.S. "One-Take Woody" Van Dyke and with cinematography by the great James Wong Howe, the film is witty, fast paced, funny, and filled with wonderful characters dressed in the latest style by Dolly Tree, and a script that’s just spot on.

Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Thin Man became a screwball mystery on screen. Retired detective Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wealthy wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), are in New York for the holidays when Nick is dragged, reluctantly, into the case of a missing inventor, Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis). Soon bodies start turning up and it's left to Nick, with Nora and their trusted canine companion, Asta, by his side to solve the mystery.

Powell and Loy exhibit some of the best screen chemistry in film history. Watching the affectionate, easy banter between the two is like watching a ballet. They are perfectly in sync with each other, and you really believe this is a couple in love, sometime usually relegated to non-married couples in film.

I don't know who created this .gif (apologies) but it's just perfect.

Their comic timing is perfect from their delivery of punch lines to their non-verbal reactions to each other (see above). Much of the humour centres around drinking, primarily Nick's. No film has ever made being drunk look more glorious. Nick is either tipsy or drunk for most of the film and his ability to retain his urbane air and way with words is something that most drunks can only dream of accomplishing.

And then there’s Asta. The greatest film dog of all time (in my books), this Wirehaired Fox Terrier (real name Skippy) steals every scene he’s in and sometimes even steals the evidence. Asta also provides a lot of the comedy in the film: when there's danger, like a man pointing a gun at the Charles, he is found hiding under the bed. And when Nick decides to share a berth with Nora on the train home, Asta covers his eyes. 

The duo are surrounded by a strong cast of supporting characters including Maureen O’Sullivan as Wynant’s daughter Dorothy; Minna Gombell as her mother Mimi; a young Cesar Romero as Mimi’s second husband Chris; William Henry as Wynant’s strange son Gilbert; Porter Hall as Wynant's attorney Herbert MacCaulay; Nat Pendleton as the police inspector trying to solve the case; Harold Huber as a crook named Nunheim (what a name!); and two actors with the most amazing Brooklyn accents—Edward Brophy as repeat offender Joe Morelli and Gertrude Short as Marion, Nunheim's no-nonsense blonde girlfriend.

Another reason The Thin Man is perfect is its script filled with witty zingers. 

Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora: I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

Inspector Guild: You got a pistol permit?
Nick: No.
Inspector Guild: Ever heard of the Sullivan Act?
Nora: Oh, that's all right, we're married.

Reporter: Say listen, is he working on a case?
Nora: Yes, he is.
Reporter: What case?
Nora: A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.

If you've never seen The Thin Man you should watch it immediately, like tonight. I have the box set along with the other five Thin Man films but it's also available for streaming on Amazon. And if you've seen the film but didn't like it then you might just want to make an appointment  to see your doctor and get your head checked. 

That’s it, 31 films for the month of July. I’m happy I accomplished this challenge (and that it's done) and hope you enjoyed my picks. Back to regular posting soon.

30 July 2013

Day 30: The "Smartest" Film You've Seen

Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, and Herbert Marshall experience Trouble in Paradise. 
Day 30 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The “smartest” film you’ve seen.

When I think of smart films I think of Ernst Lubitsch, the king of sophistication and wit. With the “Lubitsch touch,” he made films that dealt with sex, love, class, politics, and crime in such a smart way that often the censors didn’t catch on. 

One of his best is Trouble in Paradise (1932) in which a couple of thieves (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) plan to con a wealthy woman (Kay Francis) but things don’t go quite according to plan. From the opening title in which he inserts the image of a bed after the words "Trouble in" to a shot of a couple on a sofa that then dissolves to an empty sofa, signalling they're off having sex, Lubitsch let's the viewer know that this is a film for grown-ups and a smart one at that.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

29 July 2013

Day 29: A Film That You Will Never Tire Of

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird

Day 29 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film that you will never tire of.

There's a select group of films that I routinely watch a couple of times a year. Many of them are screwball comedies and Hitchcock films (surprise, surprise) but one is Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). 

To Kill a Mockingbird is a film that I love as much as the book. Harper Lee's story of racial injustice in the South as observed by a young girl is a classic American story that translates beautifully to the screen. Gregory Peck is brilliant as Atticus Finch, an attorney and widower father of two with a strong sense of right and wrong, and Mary Badham and Phillip Alford are great as his two children, Scout and Jem. The film has humorous scenes, quiet moments of reflection, a trial that makes your blood boil, dramatic passages that never fail to be moving, and a terrific score. And then there's the brief appearance of Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in a scene that always makes me tear up a little. To Kill a Mockingbird, I will never get tired of you.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

28 July 2013

Day 28: Your "Perfect Date" Film

John Cusack is Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything… 

Day 28 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: Your “perfect date” film.

I'm changing this slightly to "everyone's" perfect date film, which would be Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything… (1989). A romantic comedy that appeals to both women and men, it has great music and a likable hero, Lloyd Dobler, whom guys can learn a thing or two from.

“I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you're here at like the Gas 'n' Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?”—Lloyd Dobler.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

27 July 2013

Day 27: A Film From Your Childhood

Shirley Temple is The Little Princess. Image from here.

Day 27 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film from your childhood.

Sunday mornings growing up meant watching old movies on channel 44. They would always show a Shirley Temple movie and although she wasn't my favourite I did enjoy Walter Lang’s The Little Princess (1939). I especially liked the scene where Temple as Sara Crewe, reduced to working as a servant in the school and living in a garret, wakes up one morning to discover that her room has been completely decorated and the fireplace lit courtesy of Cesar Romero, playing an Indian servant named Ram Dass, and the tearful ending where she’s reunited with her missing father and meets Queen Victoria. Hail Britannia.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

26 July 2013

Day 26: The Film That Should Have Never Had a Sequel

                                                       Al Pacino is Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II

Day 26 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The film that should have never had a sequel.

I would like to amend today's prompt to the sequel that should have never had a sequel. Few sequels have managed to be as good as the originals and yet Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II (1974) is both a great sequel and a great film. Together, The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II form an epic American story that has an important place in cinema history.

Andy Garcia on the set of The Godfather: Part III

So why then did Coppola, who I love, decide to mess with greatness and make another sequel, The Godfather: Part III (1990)? Save for a strong performance by a ridiculously handsome Andy Garcia as Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son, the film is dreadful for a variety of reasons from ridiculous plot lines to bad acting (two words: Sofia Coppola). Why, Francis? Why? The first two films were fine on their own. We didn't need The Godfather: Part III.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

25 July 2013

Day 25: The Film That Makes You Want To Be a Filmmaker

Day 25 of the 31 day film challenge: The film that makes you want to be a filmmaker.

The first time I saw François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), I was completely mesmerized by the story of poor misunderstood Antoine Doinel. I had never seen a Truffaut film before, and I immediately decided that this brilliant man was one of my favourite directors. Instead of using gimmicks and convoluted plot lines he relied simply on telling a story that was both moving and true with real characters. Every time I see this film it inspires my creativity and makes me want to be a filmmaker. 

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.


Did you hear? This is Michele's 500th post!

What do you know? This is my 500th post! When I first started this blog three years ago, I never imagined I would be able to come up with this many things to post about or that anyone would be interested. So thank you dear readers for stopping by—I couldn't have gotten this far without you. I hope you'll enjoy the next 500 tales. And now, onwards.

Louise Brooks in Just Another Blonde (1926).

24 July 2013

Day 24: Your "Guilty Pleasure" Film

Day 24 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: Your “guilty pleasure” film.

I love old movies and French films, but I also adore Jackie Chan. There is just something so endearing about him. He is by no means a great actor but he has a certain charm and warmth that is hard not to like. He genuinely appears to be enjoying what he’s doing and when he’s in action, performing his jaw-dropping stunts (some of which look like they may kill him), he can bring to mind Buster Keaton, the master of screen stunts. No wonder I like him.

I’ll watch anything with Jackie Chan in it (by the way, I can never refer to him without saying his full name) but one of my favourites is Tom Dey’s Shanghai Noon (2000). Set in the Wild West, Jackie Chan is an imperial Chinese guard who has come to rescue a kidnapped princess and ends up partnering with laid back train robber Owen Wilson along the way. The script is funny and the chemistry between Jackie Chan and Wilson great. It’s one of those films that if I’m ever flipping the channels and it’s on, I’ll stop what I'm doing and watch it. What can I say? I'm a fan of Jackie Chan. 

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

23 July 2013

Day 23: The Funniest Film You've Ever Seen

Day 23 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The funniest film you've ever seen.

There are a lot of films that have made my laugh, many of which belong to my favourite comedy genre—the screwball comedy. Bringing Up Baby, Easy Living, Midnight, My Man Godrey, The Awful Truth, they are all so good and so funny that it's hard to pick just one but I'll go with Howard Hawks' My Girl Friday (1940). Hilarious and witty, with banter the likes of which you rarely hear and a great pairing of Cary Grant (king of the screwball comedy) and Rosiland Russell (who holds her own), it's one of the funniest films I've ever seen.

If you're interested, read my piece on His Girl Friday here and my piece on screwball comedies here. To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

Up On the Roof

Since July is turning into film month around here on the blog, I thought I’d give you a break and post something non-film related.

A few weeks ago I ventured up to the roof of the Met to see their latest installation, “The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi.” At first glance the roof looks like red paint, the colour of blood, has been splashed about indiscriminately. Yet on closer inspection groups of petals and leaves are revealed. 

The Pakistani artist first began working with red acrylic paint a few years ago in response to violence in his country. Qureshi says, "The flowers that seem to emerge from the red paint in my work represent the hope that—despite everything—the people sustain somehow, their hope for a better future.”

I don't know how much of an impact it makes at the Met but the installation was still interesting to see, especially depending on the time of day you go as the perspective changes as shadows fall across the roof. 

 The floral designs are a contrast to the greenery of Central Park below. The view from the roof, by the way, is worth a trip alone. I would have stayed up there longer if it hadn't been so hot.

The installation is available for viewing, weather permitting, through November 3, 2013. For more information, visit here. Photos by Michele.

22 July 2013

Day 22: The Film You Should Like, But Don't

Day 22 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The film you should like, but don’t.

This one is probably going to come as a shock to some, especially as it's often cited as the best film ever made, but I don’t care for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). Even though Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors and it’s set in San Francisco, I’ve never warmed to the film. For starters, I just don’t like Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) and his obsession with Madeline and subsequent treatment of Judy (both played by Kim Novak). Nor do I like the story's twist—a story about a woman who may be haunted by a dead woman turns out to be a con job. It feels, in a way, as if the audience is cheated. Sorry, folks. I’ll take any other Hitchcock film instead.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

21 July 2013

Day 21: A Film That Changed the Way You Saw the World

Day 21 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The film that not only changed the way you saw cinema, but the way you saw the world.

Today's prompt is probably the toughest so far but the first film that comes to mind is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993), a film that had a visceral effect on me and remains one of the most important and influential films I have ever seen. 

Kieslowski, who I believe to be one of the greatest directors of the late 20th century, was a filmmaker who conveyed the human condition in a way few others have and who showed me what film could do. Often favouring imagery and music over dialogue, he was a director who believed a camera focused unwaveringly on a character's face could speak volumes more than any words. In his films, Kieslowski dealt with issues of life, death, spirituality in a way that may cause us to feel uncomfortable, emotional, but makes us think.

I first saw this film in the theatre, and I went in knowing nothing about it save that it was French and starred Juliette Binoche. I walked out afterwards in a daze, my mind racing. For days I thought about that film. There was something about Binoche's character, Julie, that I had reacted to, connected to, even though on the surface we had nothing in common. I was in the middle of making some major life decisions and somehow I feel like that film helped me. Did it change the way I saw the world? I think most definitely. Just don't ask me to describe how.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

20 July 2013

Day 20: The Best Political Film

Day 20 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The best political film.

Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men (1976), about the uncovering of the greatest political scandal in American history, is a taut thriller that not only gives a detailed look at Washington politics but also a realistic portrayal of a newsroom. One of the strengths of the film is that even though you know the outcome of the story you stay riveted throughout, due largely in part to Pakula’s superb direction. There’s also some great acting from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (“Woodstein”), and the brilliant Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee. Be warned though: watching the film again might make you nostalgic for the days when reporters had to actually speak to sources and confirm facts before running with a story.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

19 July 2013

Day 19: The First Film You Saw in a Theatre

Day 19 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The first film you saw in a theatre.

The first one that I can remember is Disney’s Cinderella (1950). I believe there was popcorn involved and that I was there with some kids from the neighbourhood. I also recall that my favourite parts of the film involved the mice, an early indicator that I would always favour any animals in a picture.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

18 July 2013

Day 18: The Worst Script in Any Film

Day 18 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The worst script in any film.

There are so many out there but I’m going with Twilight (2008) because as a fan of vampire stories, I was actually looking forward to seeing a new take on my favourite creatures of the night.

The only good thing about sitting through this film is that I didn’t pay to see it in a cinema (although I wasted the opportunity to rent a different DVD in its place).

I could go on a rant about how terrible this script is starting with its laughable portrayal of vampires but instead of spending anymore of my time (I already wasted enough time watching it) I’ll just say that Catherine Hardwicke who wrote the script and Stephenie Meyer who wrote the book should both be ashamed of themselves for creating such drivel. Are the subsequent films' scripts any better? I don't know but I wouldn't bet on it.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

17 July 2013

Day 17: The Most Beautiful Scene in Any Film

Day 17 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The most beautiful scene in any film.

Film scenes can be beautiful for a variety of reasons—the cinematography, the dialogue (or lack of), the setting, the music. For me, one of the most beautiful scenes ever, which happens to include all of these things, occurs in Merchant Ivory’s Room With a View (1985) when George (Julian Sands) kisses Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) in an Italian poppy field. The light, the silence between the two, the Tuscan countryside, and the Puccini is all so perfectly beautiful. See for yourself.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

16 July 2013

Day 16: A Film That You Totally Didn't "Get"

Day 16 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film that you totally didn't "get."

I realize that Ingmar Bergman is one of those directors whom I should revere and that a true cinephile would know and love all of his films. But to be honest, I don't know if I "get" some of his work. Take for example The Seventh Seal (1957). I "get" that death (Bengt Ekerot) walks on a beach and plays a game of chess with a knight (Max von Sydow) and that it's suppose to be an allegory, deep and meaningful. Yet I'm not sure why it's deep and meaningful. Maybe because it doesn't interest me enough to want to spend the time figuring it out. Sorry, death. I just don't "get" The Seventh Seal.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

15 July 2013

Day 15: The Best Horror Film

Don't cross this kid. 

Day 15 of the 31 day film challenge: The best horror film.

I love a good horror film and one of the best is Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976). The American ambassador to Great Britain (the magnificent Gregory Peck) and his wife (Lee Remick) begin to suspect that their son, Damien, is not a normal little boy (clue: he has a birthmark shaped like the number 666 on his head). Soon people around the cute tyke start dying in a variety of ways (decapitated by a sheet of glass and impaled with a church pole are just a few choice examples). 

For me, The Omen has all the necessary elements that make a great horror film: strong leads, the inclusion of a prophecy and/or legend, creepy settings, haunting music, and a scary bad guy. In the case of The Omen, the bad guy is the Antichrist. You can’t get much scarier than that.

I’ve never found horror films where the characters are threatened by some crazy man with a machete or a supernatural like a vampire or zombie to be all that frightening. Somehow you can always manage to stop them—shoot the guy or stake the vampire, for example. But when the Devil comes to town, there’s only so much you can do. Which is one of the reasons why The Omen is so damn scary and is one of the best horror films ever made.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

14 July 2013

Day 14: A Film That You Used to Love But Now Hate

Day 14 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film that you used to love but now hate.

One film that comes to mind is Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Now before you start hurling your pearl necklaces and cigarette holders at me, hear me out.

I love Truman Capote’s book and used to love the movie (along with what seems to be every other woman in the world). Yet on a recent viewing I found that I was not as enamoured with it as I had thought. Let me say, I do love the look of the film and the music and think Audrey is adorable. But George Peppard is a bad actor, the ending is pure Hollywood (unlike the one in the book), and never for a second is Audrey believable as a former farm girl from Texas. In fact, she is too sophisticated in general to play Holly. And don’t get me started on the embarrassing racist portrayal by Mickey Rooney of Mr. Yunioshi. Seriously, what was Blake Edwards thinking? So maybe what I should say is not that I hate Breakfast at Tiffany’s but rather I don’t love it. Sorry.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

13 July 2013

Day 13: A Film With Your Least Favourite Actor/Actress

Day 13 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film with your least favourite actor/actress.

Even though she was a huge silent film star, I’ve never cared for Gloria Swanson. Something about her acting left me cold. But I have to admit I like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). It’s hard to imagine any one other than Swanson playing mad Norma Desmond. And I love the references to other silent film stars and the special appearances, especially Buster Keaton at the card game.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

12 July 2013

Day 12: A Film With Your Favourite Actor/Actress

Day 12 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film with your favourite actor/actress.

Pandora’s Box (1929) with the amazing Louise Brooks. Enough said. 

To find out more about Louise Brooks, read a previous post I wrote about her here. And for more on the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Have you ever seen The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011)? Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, this 2012 Oscar winner for best animated short film is a poignant story about the power of books and the people who love them.

A man clearly based on Buster Keaton (sad eyes, flat hat, and cane) is on his New Orleans balcony writing his memoirs when he’s whisked off in a storm à la Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and deposited into a black and white land where the words in his book fall away. He’s despondent until a walking book with an animated Humpty Dumpty leads him to a house where the books live and everything is in colour.

I love this short and think it’s absolutely darling, especially the Buster Keaton man. If you've never seen it, here's the complete film. Enjoy.

11 July 2013

Day 11: The Best Sports Film

Day 11 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The best sports film.

This is a hard one. I’m not a huge fan of sports films but one that I like a lot is John Sayles’ Eight Men Out (1988), the story of the Black Sox scandal that resulted in eight Chicago White Sox players being banned from baseball for life for throwing the 1919 World Series. In the film, there is no glamour in baseball. There are no rewards. Instead you witness a group of talented young men being underpaid and used by the rich and more powerful. While the actions of eight of the players did break the law and the hearts of countless baseball fans, in the end you can’t help but feel sympathetic for them. 

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

10 July 2013

Day 10: A Film From Your Favourite Director

Day 10 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: A film from your favourite director.

I would be hard pressed to name just one favourite director. There are so many whom I could list—Lubitsch, Wilder, Truffaut, Fellini, Kieslowski. Another would be Alfred Hitchcock for the simple reason that no matter how often I watch one of his films, I still get sucked in as if I’m seeing it for the first time. My favourite of all his works is Notorious (1946), which stars my main leading man, Cary Grant, as a US agent who gets Ingrid Bergman, the daughter of a convicted spy, to infiltrate a group of Nazi living in exile in Brazil. When one of them, Claude Rains, shows an interest in Bergman, she must decide how far she’s willing to go for her country. 

The film is fraught with Hitchcock’s special blend of suspense and romance and includes maybe the greatest screen kiss ever caught on film. And the final scene on the staircase? A complete nail biter. Notorious is brilliantly executed and pure Hitchcock.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.

09 July 2013

Day 9: Best Documentary Film

Day 9 of the 31 Day Film Challenge: The best documentary film.

I don't know if it's the best but one of my all-time favourite documentaries is Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). Using behind-the-scenes footage shot by Eleanor Coppola along with new interviews, Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper chronicle the incredible odds faced by director Francis Ford Coppola during the making of Apocalypse Now. Just a few of his challenges included an actor who would wander off into a war zone in search of drugs, a lead who almost died from a heart attack, and a certain star who didn’t know his lines (you can guess who that was). Add in a monsoon and major budget issues, and it’s a surprise that the film ever got made (and that Coppola didn't completely lose his mind). There's also Marlon Brando saying, “I swallowed a bug." Classic.

To find out more about the 31 Day Film Challenge, visit here.


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