Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)

He lives in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye) does. Although he works as a proofreader, a profession that requires intense concentration, he's a world-champion daydreamer, lapsing off at the most unexpected times.

For example, while driving with his domineering mother, Eunice (Fay Bainter), he lapses into a daydream where he's captain of the Sea Drift, guiding his sailing ship (that goes “pocketa-poketa-pocketa”) through a storm, with a lovely woman (Virginia Mayo) by his side.

His boss, Bruce Pierce (Thurston Hall), initiates a new genre – hospital love stories – which sets him off on another daydream, with a lovely nurse (Virginia Mayo again) in the OR, and a complication only he can solve. A medical instrument goes pocketa-poketa-pocketa, and Pierce keeps taking credit for Walter's ideas.

His childish fiancée, Gertrude Griswold (Ann Rutherford), her loud-mouthed mother (Florence Bates), and her doggie, Queenie (who doesn't like Walter), come by for dinner. While stoking the furnace, Walter daydreams about being a WWII Spitfire ace for the Royal Air Force. Pocketa-poketa-pocketa goes the warplane's engine. On the ground, in the club, Mitty does a musical interpretation that's funneeeeey. And yes, a lovely harem dancer (Virginia ... well, you know) enters.

Then, one day on the train, a beautiful woman named Rosalind van Hoorn, takes the seat next to him. It's Virginia Mayo, who played all the lovely women in his dreams. Suddenly, his life takes a turn into the realm of his fantasies when she asks him for help.

Oh, what complications arise: Forgotten briefcase, stolen Dutch Crown jewels, Nazis, murder, disappearances, a little black book. Rosalind's uncle, Peter van Hoorn (Konstantin Shayne), explains a lot, and tells Walter that his life is in danger because he witnessed the murder of Karl Maasdam (Frank Reicher). It's a real-life adventure, and he can't tell anyone.

Walter's life turns hectic; he's being pursued by a man named Hendrick (Henry Corden), and has a valuable little black book that ends up being stolen by Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (Boris Karloff).

But he continues to daydream. In one, he's a riverboat gambler (the paddle wheels go pocketa-poketa-pocketa) taking Gertrude's obnoxious suitor, Tubby Wadsworth (Gordon Jones), for everything he owns, including a plantation that he returns to a lovely Southern belle (guess who).

The good thing is that he grows a pair in the process.

Empire Magazine ranked The Secret Life of Walter Mitty number 479 on its 2008 list of greatest all-time movies. It should have been ranked higher – Danny Kaye is so talented and magnificent. The film was remade in 2013 with Ben Stiller both directing and taking on the lead role.

The film was based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story that appeared in his book, My World and Welcome to It. According to Thurber, the Mitty character is based on writer Robert Benchly. It is reported that Thurber offered producer Samuel Goldwyn $10,000 not to make the film. Thurber hated the film and said that Danny Kaye didn’t portray the Mitty character correctly at all.

Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo reprised their roles in a 1947 30-minute adaptation in a radio broadcast of “The Screen Guild Theater.”

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

"I know a way to kill a man, and leave no trace." – Dr. Hollingshead (Boris Karloff)

The clock didn’t strike. I definitely heard it not strike.” – Mrs. Eunice Mitty (Fay Bainter)

Your small minds are muscle-bound with suspicion. That’s because the only exercise you ever get is jumping to conclusions.” – Walter Mitty (Danny Kaye)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), the negative asset manager at Life Magazine with a thing for co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), is always zoning out in daydreams at the oddest times. His fantasies segue nicely into real life then quickly turn exciting and unreal.

(“Negative asset” had me wondering and shaking my head until I realized he was in charge of photographic negatives, which are considered assets by the magazine.)

It's an escape from his life and its inhabitants – his performance artist sister, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn); his elderly nostalgic mother, Edna (Shirley McLaine); and his cocky new boss, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott).

New boss? Yep. Life has been acquired and is being downsized to an online publication. Photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) sends him a roll of negatives (and a wallet as a parting gift), recommending negative #25 for the last-ever print issue cover. The picture, Sean says, reflects the "quintessence of Life."

But the negative's not there and they go to press in two-and-a-half weeks. So Walter sets out to find Sean, who shuns contact and is usually hard to find. He has to do this in between dealing with the moving of his mother's piano to her new apartment.

Fantasies: Walter beats up his boss, he has that Benjamin Button thing and gets smaller as he grows older, he's a mountain explorer. But that all turns out to be secondary.

Cheryl, a recently hire in the photo accounts department, helps him figure out clues and track down Sean. Possible locations: New Jersey and ... Greenland. So he launches into a real-life adventure that rivals his fantasies and flies to Greenland (only two passengers on the Air Greenland flight and they are seated next to each other).

Walter charters a mail helicopter to take him to a fishing vessel (the Eyjafalljokull) whose name is pictured in one of Sean's negatives. After a rather incredible adventure ("This is ground control to Major Tom") with the helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), he diverts to Iceland (beautiful scenery!"). He shows us how good he is on a skateboard.

Oh, hello, the volcano is erupting. So's his company. When he gets back, he finds the layoffs have begun, and he's fired.

Time for the last picture clue, Afghanistan and the final act (more beautiful scenery).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was produced on a $90-million budget, earning $188 million at the box office. It is a reboot of the 1947 version starring Danny Kaye, and like its predecessor, is based on James Thurber’s 1939 short story. It’s interesting to note that except for the Walter Mitty character and the basic theme, neither movie resembles each other (or the Thurber story, for that matter).

Also considered for the role of Walter Mitty were Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Owen Wilson. Among those who had considered remaking the 1939 film were Mark Waters, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. Stiller, who was eventually chosen, also directed the film.

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter appear as themselves in a cameo scene.

Trivia: All of the Greenland scenes were shot in Iceland. The Greenland rent-a-cars are South Korean Daewoo Matizes.

I sure did like this movie; it made me tear up at the end.

Grade: A

Quotes I like from the film:

Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” – Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn)

"I just live by the ABCs – Adventurous, Brave, Creative." – Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller)

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” – Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller)

Don’t cheat on your lady, man, when you live in a country [Greenland] that only has eight people in it.” – Helicopter Pilot (Ólafur Darrick Ólafsson)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Paper Lion (1968)

In 1963, author George Plimpton went to the Detroit Lions training camp, posing as an old rookie in the National Football League. Based on his experience, he wrote a two-page article for Sports Illustrated in 1964. This movie adaptation of Plimpton’s book was released in 1968.

Writer George Plimpton (Alan Alda) receives an assignment to try out as an amateur rookie at a professional football training camp, and then actually run a series of plays in what was then called an "exhibition" game.

His girlfriend and assistant, Kate, is played by the beautiful supermodel/actress, Lauren Hutton. Miss Hutton's cleft between her front teeth added to her popularity, long before boxer Mike Tyson and football star turned television co-host Michael Strahan flashed theirs before the public.

Not having much success, getting one turndown after another, he finally gets a "maybe" from the Detroit Lions.

Next stop, training camp. Meet George Plimpton, #17, rookie QB, formerly of the Canadian semi-pro team, the Newfoundland Newfs. See him singing the Harvard fight song. See him hazed by his veteran teammates. See his skinny physique among the muscles in the locker room. See the center hike the ball into his nuts. See his first pass go "quack, quack."

Word's out that he's a writer. Lions Alex Karras and John Gordy fill him in with some good advice (like "Quit now"), but he decides to continue. First full-contact practice ... Ouch, ouch. Plimpton improves, and actually makes some good plays. He has to bear quite a few pranks by the vets – bloody knife warning, lead in his shoes, monster frights – but he takes it good-naturedly, earning the respect of the players. Kate visits to take pictures, and suddenly everybody wants to be his best pal.

First full inter-squad scrimmage, Plimpton runs the first series and scores a rushing TD, only to discover they went easy on him. Then comes the preseason game with the St. Louis Cardinals. Now sporting #0 on his jersey, he'll get his chance if the Lions are 21 points ahead and there's not enough time for the Cardinals to possibly catch up. The game sequence is excellent, using actual game footage.

See the clean jersey enter the game. See the quarterback set up over guard instead of the center. See him fall dropping back to pass. See him keep the ball and get thrown for a loss. See him run into his own goalpost. Three plays, -41 yards.

A number of members of the 1967 Detroit Lions appear as themselves in the film – Lions coach Joe Schmidt, defensive tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, offensive guard John Gordy, linebacker Mike Lucci, punter and wide receiver Pat Studstill, cornerback Lem Barney, and quarterback Karl Sweetan, among others. Halfback/wide receiver Frank Gifford, legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi and world middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson also appear as themselves.

I first saw Paper Lion on the big screen when it was first released, and I had a ball. I just watched it again this year when it ran on the "this" cable channel and had a ball again. There are lots of "inside the game" scenes, and it's interesting and fun to see how the players and coaches practice, prepare, and handle the pressures of the game.

The best part? The coaches and players actually do good jobs as actors.

And yes, in 1963, the St. Louis team really was the Cardinals, who later moved to Phoenix, and before the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis. I was a big Rams fan and went to all their home games in 1965 through the 1971 season.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

"Just stay out of the pit, George, stay out of the pit." – Frank Gifford (himself)

"George, there's something about pro football you have to understand – it's hitting; that's what it's all about." – Detroit Lions coach Joe Schmidt (himself)

"I'm not interested in being exposed to your antediluvian aggressiveness." – George Plimpton (Alan Alda)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of the 2002 Spider-Man film. In this version, we learn how Peter Parker (Max Charles at age 4, Andrew Garfield as a teen) is entrusted to his Uncle Ben and Auntie May Parker (Martin Sheen and Sally Field).

Many years later, he discovers that his parents – Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Daridtz) – were killed in a plane crash. He also learns that his dad had been working on cross-species genetics with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) for Oscorp Industries.

So he applies for an internship position there, and is surprised to learn that his high school classmate, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), is head intern there. At Oscorp, he goes where he's not supposed to go and is bitten by an experimental spider. He later discovers he has incredible strength and reflexes, heightened senses, and can cling to subway ceilings ... not to mention his huge appetite.

Peter uses his powers to humiliate Eugene "Flash" Thompson (Chris Zylka), a high school jock bully who's Gwen's boyfriend (but not for long as Peter and Gwen soon become mutually smitten). He also impresses Dr. Connors and creates an algorithm that regenerates a missing limb in a mouse.

When Uncle Ben is shot and killed by a thief that Peter failed to stop, Peter uses his powers to hunt the killer, battling bad guys he encounters. He needs a disguise and finds inspiration in an old wrestling poster. Reports of his work come to the attention of New York Police Dept. Capt. George Stacy (Denis Leary), who happens to be Gwen’s father, and makes his capture a priority.

Meanwhile, Dr. Connor's superior, Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan), wants him to start human trials; Dr. Connor resists, saying it's much too early. So Dr. Ratha shuts him down. And that action has consequences – dire consequences. Enter ... the Lizard. And a few epic battles.

Which reminds me – how come Gwen hugs and nuzzles a wet Peter after his battle with the Lizard in the sewers of New York City? Doesn't he stink?

Hang around for the end of the closing credits.

Among the 17 actors considered for the lead were Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Radcliffe, Zac Efron and Jim Sturgess. Among the 20 actresses considered for the female lead were Mia Wasikowska, Imogen Poots, Lindsay Lohan, Emma Roberts and Hilary Duff.

The Amazing Spider-Man was released on the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man. It originally was going to be a Spider-Man 4 instead of a reboot. A new contract would have given Sam Raimi, Tobey Macguire and Kirsten Dunst (the original director and principal stars of the previous Spider-Man movies), $30 million each for a three-picture deal that would involve a new trilogy in the series.

Produced on a budget of $230 million, The Amazing Spider-Man earned $758 million at the box office. A sequel (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) with the lead characters reprising their roles, was released in 2014. A third film (The Amazing Spider-Man 3) is scheduled for release in 2016.

I rather liked the more "comic-book-y" 2002 version better; it's less dark. Plus, I didn't care much for Martin Sheen's and Sally Fields' portrayals of Ben and May Parker. I think Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris did better jobs with the roles. But Denis Leary's good, as he usually is. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are credible as the leads.

Grade: B+

Quotations I like from the film:

"That was great, what you did out there. It was stupid. But it was great." – Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)

Ever since you were a little boy, you've been living with so many unresolved things. Well, take it from an old man. Those things send us down a road ... they make us who we are.” – Ben Parker (Martin Sheen)

We all have secrets: the ones we keep ... and the ones that are kept from us.” – Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bridge to the Sun (1961)

Bridge to the Sun is a true story based on the life of Gwendolyn Harold Terasaki of Tennessee, who married Japanese diplomat Hidenari “Terry” Terasaki, and shows us some of the hardships she endured when World War II broke out. Her book of the same name was published in 1957.

Gwen Harold (Carroll Baker) meets Hidenary “Terry” Terasaki (James Shigeta) at an official Japanese Embassy social function in Washington, D.C. She's visiting; he's secretary to the Japanese ambassador. She gives him her telephone number, and next thing you know, they're singing "Oh, Suzannah" in his car.

Her Aunt Peggy (Ruth Masters) is pretty perturbed to see her brought home by Terry, but they go out again, and again. They grow close, fall in love, Terry proposes, and she accepts. The Japanese ambassador expresses his deep concern because of Terry's diplomatic position. When Terry threatens to resign, the ambassador relents and gives his permission.

Soon, they're on a ship to Japan, where they're greeted by relatives and friends. She commits several faux pas, and has a difficult time adjusting to Japanese customs – like, don't show emotion, don't look at the Emperor, men go first, men chat alone after dinner, shoes are removed before entering the house, and women are not to express opinions.

In politics, Terry's peaceful philosophy clashes with that of his long-time friend, Jiro (Tetzuro Tamba), who subscribes to the government mantra that divine destiny is beneficial to Western powers, even if use of force is required. Gwen speaks her mind, much to Terry's displeasure. But she's pregnant, and that helps.

Unfortunately, World War II breaks out. Terry is reassigned to Washington, D.C., while Japan and the United States are still at peace. But there are spies and informers about.

And then ... Pearl Harbor. Terry is deported, and over his protests, Gwen decides to go along, taking their daughter, Mariko "Mako" (Nori Elisabeth Hermann and Emi Florence Hirsch), along with them. She witnesses hate and jeers from Americans as they leave, and experiences worse in Japan.

Thanks to Jiro, Terry is constantly harassed for being unsupportive of the war effort and not being patriotic enough. Mako is taunted and bullied at school, so he sends them the countryside where it's safer. Eventually, fighting and bombing edge closer to Japan. Tempers flare, hope fades, hunger induces treachery, and their marital bonds, though often frayed, survive.

Then one day, the war, like all wars before it, ends with a historic radio broadcast by Tenohika (Emperor Hirohito). Peace at last, peace at last. Terry sends Gwen and Mako to Tennessee, and Terry ... well, he remains behind, and visits his parents' grave (you'll understand the significance of that if you've seen the movie).

sansei  (third-generation Japanese-American) who was born in Hawaii, James Shigeta served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He reached the rank of Staff Sergeant after two-and-a-half years of service. In addition to Bridge to the Sun, Shigeta, a veteran of 24 films, is also noted for his roles in Flower Drum Song (1961), Die Hard (1988) and Mulan (1998).

Shigeta died in his sleep on July 28, 2014 at the age of 85.

Bridge to the Sun is a wonderful film of the heart, a love story of two cultures with an ending full of unspoken emotion. If you've gotten into the movie, you'll understand why the final scene, when they close in on Carol Baker's face, brings tears to your eyes. And the best part? It's a true story.

Grade: A

Quotations I like from the film:

"Well honestly, I don't know what you're perturbed about. I'm not seeing my other honorable friends tonight. As a matter of fact, I even lied to Aunt Peggy to be with you." – Gwen Harold (Carroll Baker)

"He wasn't white and he wasn't proper, but he was strong and tender. He wasn't afraid. You could sort of see the whole big world, right in his eyes." – Gwen Harold (Carroll Baker)

"Oh Terry, after all these years, you didn't knock." – Gwen Harold (Carroll Baker)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Enough Said (2013)

Enough Said is an enjoyable story of two middle-agers with high school daughters. They’re just going through their lives until they find themselves in a second-time-around romance.

Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), is a divorced masseuse who has to cope with clients who have halitosis, clients who talk non-stop, and clients who live at the top of a long two-floor walk-up steep stairs.

Her friends, married couple Will (Ben Falcone) and Sarah (Toni Collette), take her to a party at Pacific Palisades, where she meets poet Marianne (Catherine Keener), and Will's friends, Jason (Phillip Brock) and Albert (James Gandolfini).

Marianne becomes a client, then Eva finds out Albert wants to go out with her. Although they're not mutually attracted at first, but they hit it off, joking and laughing at their own expense. Eva's not sure if she really likes him, and then has to deal with her daughter, Ellen's (Tracey Fairaway) and friend Chloe's (Tavi Gevinson), frank sexual conversation (she embarrasses Tess).

During a conversation with Marianne, Eva realizes that Marianne's ex, whom they'd often talked about, is actually ... Albert. And that presents a problem. Oh, really? Really. Because now, Eva has to keep a secret from Albert. And Marianne. And Albert's and Marianne's daughter, Tess (Eve Hewson). Plus now, his quirks start bugging her.

Does everything come to a head? Does everything work out at the end? Hmmm. Sometimes, things have to fall apart before they can be put together again.

This was James Gandolfini’s next-to-last movie, and it’s dedicated to him during the closing credits ("For Jim"). Toby Huss, who plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ ex-husband, once played a character who dated Elaine (Louis-Dreyfus) on the television sit-com Seinfeld.

Produced at a cost of $8 million, Enough Said earned more than $25 million at the box office. Highly regarded amongst film critics, Enough Said made several top critics’ “Ten Best of the Year” list.

Enough Said is a pretty intelligent romantic comedy. There's something to be said about middle-aged leads. The script is great, the characterizations are excellent, and the dialog absolutely enchanting. James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have great chemistry, and, they look good together, despite the fact that she's pretty and he has a thick beard and physique (he's fat). It's guaranteed to touch your heart.

Grade: B+

Quotations I like from the film:

I could not believe what I was watching! No brains, and the fake cheekbones, and the fake boobs. Do you like fake boobs?” – Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

Yes, the Container Store. The store that sells crap so you can put your crap in so you can go out and buy some more crap.” – Albert (James Gandolfini)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

La Parisienne (1957)

Brigitte Laurier (Brigitte Bardot), daughter of the French President Alcide Laurier (André Luguet), has her eyes set on Michel Legrand (Henri Vidal), her father’s chief of staff. Of course, it wouldn't be seemly, not even in France, and he tries to avoid her whenever possible.

Besides, he has his hands full with his mistress, Monique Wilson (Madeleine Lebeau), who plans to divorce her husband so she can marry Michel.

That doesn't stop Brigitte; she redoubles her efforts and tantalizes him at every opportunity, flashing her considerable curvy assets at him. But at a weekend duck-hunting holiday, Michel meets up with a former mistress, politician Caroline d'Herblay (Claire Maurier).

Suspecting their dalliance, Caroline's husband (Noël Roquevert) follows her to Michel's room. But Brigette gets there first. That develops into an interesting confrontation. Catching Brigitte hiding in Michel's bed, President Laurier forces them to get married, which leads to a honeymoon. A rather uncomfortable one at first for Michel. But passionate urges win out, as they usually do.

After the honeymoon, Brigitte is unhappy, convinced that Michel is a Don Juan who will cheat on her, the first chance he gets.

At the gala state ball for visiting Queen Greta (Nadia Gray) and Prince Charles (Charles Boyer), an argument with Michel results in her setting her sights on Prince Charles. After all, two can play the same game.

And what a game it is: A lunch scene with Michel and Monique unexpectedly crashed by Brigitte, Bridgette spending time in a new jet plane with the prince, Michel thinking she's bluffing, the prince canceling out on his wife, the president and Michel listening to the queen's dedication speech, drinks at a quaint cottage bar where they encounter barman Fernand the Animal (Fernand Sardou), princely advice on adultery, a jealous rage ... and ...

Ahchoo!

La Parisienne is the film that launched Brigitte Bardot on her career as a French teenage goddess. She was so much like the sultry Marilyn Monroe; one can't stop watching her while she's on screen, which makes it difficult to read the subtitles. Miss Bardot had such wonderful ... er, assets.

Filmed on an estimated budget of $450,000, La Parisienne enjoyed worldwide receipts of $3 million.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

I can tell when you’re lying. You never could tell a lie to me.” – Michel Legrand (Henri Vidal)

"Love and sadness are always silent." – President Alcide Laurier (André Luguet)

"A man is as young as his admirers." – Brigitte Laurier (Brigitte Bardot)