REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

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IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949)

In Classic, Comedy, I, Motion Pictures, Musical, Romance on May 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

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STUDIO – MGM

CAST – Judy Garland, Van Johnson, S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington, Buster Keaton, Marcia Van Dyke, Clinton Sundberg, Lillian Bronson

DIRECTOR – Robert Z. Leonard

NOT RATED (MPAA Equivalent: G)

When I recently opened my rented copy of The Shop Around the Corner, I popped it into my DVD player and discovered that You’ve Got Mail was the second remake of that movie. The first was redone as a musical set at turn of the 20th Century, and that it starred Judy Garland. So, I made a quick trip into my Netflix Queue and ordered In the Good Old Summertime and put it straight to the top of my list. Now, before I proceed any further, let me state that, with the notable exception of The Wizard of Oz and the occasional Andy Hardy serial, I had not seen any motion pictures starring Judy Garland until this point. Nothing against her; she just isn’t my cup of tea. Still, I pressed forward, bowl of popcorn in hand, and watched…

And I dare say I enjoyed this movie. In the Good Old Summertime is the same basic premise of The Shop Around the Corner, only instead of a contemporary department store in Budapest, it’s set in a music store in Chicago. Also, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The head clerk of the store is Andrew Larkin (Van Johnson), the boss is Otto Oberkugen (S.Z. Sakall), and the romantic interest/fly in the ointment is named Veronica Fisher (Garland). Replace the musical cigarette boxes with 100 table harps, throw in some slapstick, courtesy of Buster Keaton, and some old-tyme songs, and you have yet another Technicolor musical churned out by the factory known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Veronica (Judy Garland) offers to "help" Albert (Van Johnson) deomonstrate a song for a customer

The basic story is the same, in some cases nearly word-for-word, but the pacing is actually better than the original. Van Johnson tries not to impersonate Jimmy Stewart, but in some scenes it’s easy to spot that “aw-shucks” quality for which Stewart was famous. Judy Garland proves that even marriage and a child haven’t rusted her pipes. In one scene, a frustrated Veronica is asked to demonstrate a Christmas song; she does so, but only going through the motions in the process. Even in that moment, it’s hard to dismiss her vocal talent.

Speaking of talent, I made discovery with this movie: Marcia Van Dyke. She is an accomplished singer and musician in her own right, and here she shows off one of those talents. Her character, Louise Parkson, lives in the same boarding house as Andrew, and she is a violinist, a damn good one. Several scenes showcase her talent, culminating in an audition for a scholarship in Leipzig, Germany (home of one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world). Van Dyke isn’t much of an actress, but where she lacks in that department, she more than makes up for it with a violin in her hand. And she was very easy on the eyes, too.

One of the things that I noticed in this movie is that many of the musical numbers, especially in the first half, were in 3/4 time (waltz tempo). Now, I’m a sucker for the waltz, but I think even Johann Strauss himself might have cried out “Okay! Okay! Enough with the waltzes! Let’s move on, shall we?” But overall, the music fit in well with the plot, with one minor exception. Okay, maybe not so minor. The bulk of the movie is set in the fall and winter, but MGM needed an excuse to use the song “In the Good Old Summer Time”, which was still a fairly popular tune nearly 50 years after its initial release. So, they bookended it with two brief scenes set in a park during the summer. I’m not sure how, but they managed to pull it off.  Oh, there is one more thing: At the very end of the movie, Veronica and Albert are strolling through the park with a little girl; that brief scene marks the (unofficial) motion picture debut of Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minelli.

The DVD comes with a pair of travelogue shorts about Chicago, one for day, one for night. Both are remarkable time capsules to a time that is now all but forgotten. The daytime tour features many fixtures of the skyline, including the Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building, and the Drake Hotel, along with a parting shot of Buckingham Fountain. The nighttime featurette highlights some of the entertainment and night life aspects of the city, including a music hall frequented by the mayor, Martin H. Kennelly, as well as a dancing horse(!).

In the Good Old Summertime is a surprisingly fun movie to watch. MGM can be considered one of the few manufacturing corporations whose work was considered art, and this musical fits nicely into that fold. Remarkably, I found it at least as charming as The Shop Around the Corner. Up next, the conclusion of my three-part review. Stay tuned…

3-1/2 (out of 5)

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THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)

In Classic, Comedy, Drama, Motion Pictures, Romance, S on May 15, 2010 at 8:37 pm

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STUDIO — MGM 

CAST — Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Joseph Schildkraut, Frank Morgan, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart 

DIRECTOR — Ernst Lubitsch 

NOT RATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG) 

When I first set up this little blog of mine, I did back-to-back reviews of the two movies called The Italian Job. In it, I said that I would be doing this from time to time. On that note, a question: What do James Stewart, Judy Garland, and Tom Hanks all have in common? Well, they all starred in movies with the same premise. First up is 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner, starring Mr Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as co-workers who can’t stand each other, but don’t realize they’ve been developing a budding romance through the mail. 

Based on the play “Parfumerie”, by Miklós László, The Shop Around the Corner is set at a small department store in Budapest, Hungary. Alfred Kralik (Stewart) has been working there for nine years, under his boss (and store’s namesake) Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Other members of the staff include the cowardly and family-concsious Mr. Pirovitch (Felix Bressart), the smug and oily Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut), two long-time female clerks named Flora and Ilona (Sara Haden, Inez Courtney), and an energetic errand boy named Pepi Katona (William Tracy). One morning, an out-of-work store clerk named Klara Novak (Sullavan) approaches Aflred for a job. He says that Mr. Matuschek is not hiring at present. She then asks Mr. Matuschek, who confirms Mr. Kralik’s answer, so she improvises. A customer spots her holding a cigarette box, so Klara takes the initiative. She approaches the lady, who asks if it’s a candy box (Klara says it is), and opens it. It starts playing “Ochi Tchornya“, and the lady balks, saying how silly it would be to reach for a candy and to hear that song every time it opens. Klara says that the box will make ladies who tend to indulge themselves to be “candy conscious”, and she makes the sale — at a higher price! She gets hired. 

Klara and Alfred (Maragret Sullavan, James Stewart) bicker about each other's wardrobe before work

Practically from that moment on, Klara and Alfred seem to have nothing better to do than argue with each other at work. But they do have something in common: They each have a secret romantic pen pal. Meanwhile, the usually charming Mr. Matuschek becomes more and more distant toward Alfred, and Mr. Vadas has suddenly made a splash about town, wearing expensive suits, fur coats, and even a pinky ring (Not bad for a store clerk’s wages, eh?). Anyway, I won’t give the whole story away, except for one thing: Klara and Alfred can’t stand each other face-to-face, but they are really each other’s romantic pen pals! 

This is a charming little movie, which still holds much of its luster. Jimmy Stewart was such an underrated talent, his “aw-shucks” style of delivery makes him both a leading man and an everyman. Margaret Sullavan seems a little too forward for my taste, but softens up nicely whenever she smiled. The supporting cast was fairly good, with one exception. Pepi intervenes on a very dramatic moment in the movie. Afterward, he drops many not-so-subtle hints about what happened (though the affected party wanted discretion) and takes advantage of his position. The way William Tracy played it, I kept thinking “This guy is a real jerk!” If that was the intention, then he did well, but I didn’t like him for doing this. 

There are some nice gags in this movie, too. Remember those musical cigarette boxes? In one scene, when a character is unceremoniously sacked, he is pushed into a display of those boxes. They all fall to the floor open, and everyone swoops in, not to pick up the now ex-employee, but to close the boxes up again! 

It is worthy to note that The Shop Around the Corner was such a success at MGM, that it spawned a musical remake nine years later. This is a good movie to pop into the DVD player if you’re a guy who’s invited your new girlfriend to your place. If you really want to impress her, tell her you were looking at a copy of You’ve Got Mail and learned this was the source material of that movie, so you decided to get it instead. Trust me on this one, guys. Part Two is next… 

3-1/2 (out of 5)

THE BLIND SIDE (2009)

In B, Biography, Drama, Motion Pictures, Sports on May 11, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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STUDIO — Warner Bros.

CAST — Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Ray McKinnon, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Kathy Bates

DIRECTOR — John Lee Hancock

MPAA Rating: PG-13

In many parts of the United States, football is more than a sport; it’s practically a religion. This is especially evident through the South and Midwest, where college football reigns supreme. I can testify to this fact, as I have seen Bulldog-themed restaurants in Georgia, Longhorn-themed stores in Texas, and Cornhusker-themed everything in Nebraska. In fact, I can personally support the theory that life all but shuts down on Saturday afternoons in the fall in the state of Nebraska. After spending 16 years of my life there, I have brought back this observation: Go shopping in a department store during a Husker game, and life stands still while a play is in progress. When the ball is snapped, everyone stops in their tracks and listens intently to the radio broadcast (guaranteed to be on in at least 95% of the businesses in the state); if there’s a touchdown, they celebrate like they’re all guests of honor in a massive bachelor(ette) party. Then when the game goes to commercial, as if by magic, they go back to whatever they’re doing. It almost looks like a scene from the classic Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” (Just watch through the first sct, and you’ll see what I mean). I do, of course, say this in jest, but it is still fascinating to witness.

There is no mistake in identifying passionate football fans. They support their favorite teams until the ends of the earth, even if they have been “rebuilding” for 15 years. They wear their hearts on their sleeve, their wardrobe is adorned with the team colors of their choice, their cars are littered with flags, decals, and other paraphernalia, and they even plan social events around the games! This is true of nearly all passionate sports fans, but college football fans really love their sport, and they really love their school, no matter where they live. Such is the case of Leigh Anne Tuohy, an Ole Miss graduate living in Memphis, Tennessee.

Michael Oher (Quiton Aaron, right) at Thanksgiving dinner with the Tuohys (from left, Lily Collins, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Jae Head)

By now, I am sure that you have heard of Mrs. Tuohy, and the remarkable story of how she took in a kid from the wrong side of town because he had nowhere to go. That kid grew up to become Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens. They could not have been more different. She was an affluent, pretty, outspoken white woman with a family; he was a very large, very shy, very homeless black teenager with no ambition or direction in life. Yet, she took him into her home, fed him, clothed him, and guided him into becoming a young man who had found his destiny.

Okay, I’m not sure what has already been said about this movie, but I will say that, as sports movies go, this is one of the best I have seen in the last 20 years. One remarkable fact about The Blind Side is that it is the first motion picture with one actress billed above the title (by herself) to gross over $100 million. Now, I have had a soft spot for Sandra Bullock ever since she burst on the scene as the off-beat cop of the future in Demolition Man (1993). She is a quirky, slightly-left-of-normal girl next door, and I knew there was nothing but a bright career ahead for her. But never in a million years did I expect her to achieve serious critical acclaim, and I don’t think she did, either. When she co-starred in Crash (2004), things began to change. I noticed that Sandra Bullock was evolving from a movie star to an actress (there is a difference), and when you are an actor or actress who is also a movie star, really good things begin to happen.

The Blind Side contains fine performances from much of the cast, beginning with Bullock, who won Best Actress as Leigh Anne Tuohy. TIm McGraw was an agreeable Sean, and Quinton Aaron did very well, too. I did have one concern: Did Michael Oher, during the lost days of his youth, really lack intelligence, or did he just not care? Signs seem to point to the latter, and Aaron played from that angle fairly well (Although I did notice a few overly-vacuous spots in his performance). The breakout performance in this movie (to me, anyway) goes to Jae Head, who played Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy’s son, S.J. First of all, he had all the best lines (“Enough with the rugby shirts! You look like a giant bumble bee!”), and it was very easy to see he and Quinton Aaron bonded well. Also, watching S.J. coach Michael through drills is a sight to behold! Oh, one more cool fact about this movie: The college football coaches in the film are the real deal. Some had retired and others moved on to other positions, but yes, Virginia, that really was Lou Holtz you saw on the screen.

The Blind Side is a wonderful and inspirational story of generosity, love, and good ol’ Christian beliefs. And football. Lots of football. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then get thee to your Queue and line it up!

4 out of 5