REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Posts Tagged ‘love triangle’

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

In B, Best Picture Winners, Classic, Drama, Motion Pictures, Romance, War on April 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Bookmark and Share

STUDIO — Samuel Goldwyn Co.

CAST — Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, Teresa Wright, Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael, Cathy O’Donnell

DIRECTOR — William Wyler

NOT RATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG)

Over the last few years, there have been occasional news stories about combat veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan who encounter difficulties when making the transition back in “The World” (a term sometimes used by service members deployed overseas when they talk about the U.S.). We hear about spikes in divorce rates, domestic violence, and (sadly) even suicide among combat veterans. This isn’t a new problem, as illustrated in the Best Picture of 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives.

With World War II still fresh on everyone’s mind, The Best Years of Our Lives paints a picture of the hardships of three veterans returning from combat. First, there is Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a decorated captain in the Army Air Corps who wants only two things: a good job and quality time with his wife (whom he married before he shipped out). Next is Al Stephenson (Best Actor Fredric March), a banker with a loving family (Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright, Michael Hall) who became an infantry sergeant in the Pacific Theatre. Finally, there’s Homer Parrish (Best Supporting Actor Harold Russell), an athlete who joined the Navy right out of high school, but lost both of his hands in a fire on his aircraft carrier. These veterans from the (fictional) town of Boone City meet up early on in the Air Transport Command terminal and share the flight home in the nose of a now-decommissioned B-17. One by one, each man reunites with his family, but the real stories begin after the last tears of joy have been shed.

Homer, Al, and Fred (Harold Russell, Fredric March, Dana Andrews) on their way home from the airport

Fred encounters trouble finding work, while at the same time he discovers that his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo) is more interested in money and socializing than she is with building a new life together. Meanwhile, Al is welcomed back with open arms by his family, and he is guaranteed a promotion at the bank he had left years before, yet he is uncomfortable and starts drinking heavily. But the most moving story is that of Homer’s difficulties, both internal and external, because of his disability. On the surface, he’s all smiles and eager to demonstrate what he can do with his prosthetic hooks, but on the inside is a man reeling from the pain of being perceived as some sort of freak.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler, this is a movie about veterans made by veterans. Wyler (who had served as a film documentarian during the war) made sure the entire film crew consisted of returning veterans, thus lending a perception of authenticity. The lighting, the sound mixing, the costuming, even the editing were all done by veterans, and their combined effort shows in the movie’s overall “feel”. This is especially evident in a key scene toward the end of the movie, in which Fred wanders through the town’s “boneyard” and crawls inside the dusty hulk of what used to be a B-17. Words cannot describe the flood of emotions in this scene, and taken out of context, it is nearly pointless to do so; it is something you will need to see for yourself by watching this movie from the beginning.

Here is a not-so-commonly known fact about this movie: Harold Russell, who had lost his hands in a training accident, is the only actor in the history of the Motion Picture Academy to receive two Academy Awards for the same role in the same movie. As mentioned earlier, he was the Best Supporting Actor of 1946, but he also received an Honorary Oscar “[f]or bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives”. Russell, who passed away in 2002, went on to become a voice and face for disabled veterans since World War II by helping to create AMVETS, an organization he had led on three different occasions.

After the euphoria of the fall of Nazi Germany and the surrender of Japan, America (and the entire world) needed to heal from this gaping wound with scars buried deep within its soul. The Best Years of Our Lives showed us a society on the mend and, in the right hands, the hope of a better tomorrow. It is emotional and sometimes painful to watch, even 64 years later, and its themes have a new-found relevance to today’s combat veterans. If you or someone you know has served in the Armed Forces (which should be just about all of us), then I strongly recommend this movie. And guys, it’s okay to cry with this one…

A SERIOUS MAN (2009)

In Comedy, Drama, Independent, Motion Pictures, S on March 26, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Bookmark and Share

  

STUDIO — Focus Features  

CAST — Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus  

DIRECTORS —  Joel Coen & Ethan Coen   

MPAA Rating: R   

So, I’m putting this DVD into my player, knowing that it’s the Coen Brothers, and I come away from this movie asking more questions…  

Why is that?  

In A Serious Man, a Jewish physics professor in the Midwest  named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) comes home from work one day, when his wife (Sari Lennick) tells him out of the blue that she wants a divorce, as well as a “get” (a Jewish ritual divorce). Why? She has fallen for another professor (and Larry’s friend), Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). And with that, we are taken on a journey that leads to a test of faith. Along the way, he has to contend with his pot-smoking son (Aaron Wolff) and his upcoming bar mitzvah, his overbearing daughter (Jessica McManus) obsessed with her outward appearance, his mooching homeless brother (Richard Kind) and his gambling problem, an unscrupulous student (David Kang) trying to bribe his way to a better grade, a gentile macho neighbor (Peter Breitmayer) who apparently doesn’t know where the property line is, and the beautiful woman next door (Amy Landecker) whose husband is frequently away “on business”.  

The Gopnik family (from left: Sari Lennick, Jessica McManus, Aaron Wolff, Michael Stuhlbarg) at the dinner table

 Obviously, Larry has a lot on his mind. But as a physics professor, he knows that all actions have consequences, a point he made clear when confronting Clive, the student who had attempted to bribe him. And in A Serious Man, consequences account for a major contributor to the plot (such as it is — The Coen Brothers admit in the Special Features there really isn’t one). 

It is widely reported that this movie is based on the Story of Job in the Old Testament. Now, I do not claim to be religious by any means, but here is how I understand the Story of Job: God and Satan made a bet that a well-to-do farmer with a happy family would still believe in Him after everything he loves (his family, his home, his friends, his farm, etc.)gets taken away from him; God wins. 

So, what is at stake for our Professor Gopnik? Well, the movie (the main portion of it, anyway) begins with him taking a physical. We also learn he is awaiting tenure at the college where he works, and the “other man”, Sy Ableman, is so supportive of Larry it borders on creepy. 

There is a prologue in this movie about an eastern European Jewish couple, spoken completely in Yiddish. In it, the husband comes home late from work and tells his wife that his cart lost a wheel, but he got help from a man believed to have died from typhus three years earlier. He shows up at the house, and the wife, skeptical of his existence, stabs the “dybbuk” in the chest with an ice pick. The guest then laughs, gets up, and walks out the door into the snow. What does this have to do with the movie? Well, without revealing too many spoilers, Larry has a series of nightmares during his “rough patch”, and at least one of them involves talking to a ghost. 

On the surface, A Serious Man appears to be doing little more than going through the motions. But, after digesting it 24 hours later, I find myself answering many of the questions that I found myself asking when I had finished watching it. The Special Features were somewhat helpful. They included a featurette about making the movie, another about re-creating a Midwestern 1960s atmosphere, and even a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms for us  “goys” (gentiles). 

Normally, the Coen Brothers make movies that I just don’t get; this one, on the other hand, turned out to be an interesting profile of a man facing a crisis, and the consequences of the actions (and inactions) he takes in response to it. In the end, A Serious Man is an introspective movie that takes a while to sink in, but once it does, it will make you think. 

THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929)

In B, Best Picture Winners, Classic, Drama, Motion Pictures on January 29, 2010 at 3:22 am

Bookmark and Share

STUDIO — MGM

CAST — Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love, Kenneth Thomson

DIRECTOR —  Harry Beaumont

UNRATED (MPAA Equivalent: PG)

The Broadway Melody marked many firsts in the history of the Academy Awards, save one. It is not the first motion picture to receive the Best Picture award (That honor goes to 1927’s Wings). But it is the first “talkie” to win Best Picture, and it is the first Best Picture winner to spawn sequels (four, in all), and, though not technically a musical, it is the first to feature several musical numbers.

Let me make one thing clear: Lawrence of Arabia, this movie is not! Sound was still a novelty in the late 1920s, and all of the major studios (as well as most movie stars) made the switch to keep with the times. So, while The Broadway Melody is an entertaining spectacle, it suffers from substandard (even for the time) camera work, clunky acting from many members of the cast, and a script so cheesy, I could cut off a slice and put it on a burger.

The Mahoney Sisters (Anita Page, Bessie Love) perform on stage

Does this mean it’s a bad movie? Not necessarily. Anyone who has any interest in old movies will still enjoy it. The Broadway Melody was made for one reason: to entertain. And it does, thanks to serviceable performances by Bessie Love and Charles King. There are also a few running gags in the movie which will keep your attention, including Broadway producer Francis Zanfield’s gang of “yes men”, stuttering Uncle Jed, and a drunk lackey known in the film only as “Unconscious”.

If you know anything about show business history, you probably noticed the name Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane). Yes, it is close to the name of legendary Vaudeville  showman Florence Ziegfeld. Another name that may catch your attention is that of the movie’s antagonist, Jaques “Jock” Warriner (Kenneth Thomson); it is very close to that of Jack Warner (as in Warner Bros.). Ironic that Warner Bros. would later acquire the rights to the MGM motion picture library when they purchased Ted Turner’s televesion empire, but I digress…

The Broadway Melody is the story of the Mahoney sisters, Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), and their quest to make their big break in show business. Hank’s fiancé, Eddie (Charles King), has assured them an “in” by getting them in Mr. Zanfield’s Vaudeville troupe, but like all well-laid plans, things don’t work out so well. Eddie becomes smitten with Queenie, Queenie falls for Jock, Eddie gets jealous, and Hank gets… Well, you didn’t expect me to spoil the whole thing for ya, now, didn’t you?

The Broadway Melody is an excellent study in early motion picture history, and it is mildly entertaining. For the truly bold and adventurous, you can check out the Special Features on the DVD, which include a short loosely based on the movie and with a canine cast, called (wait for it…) “The Dogway Melody”. Less cringe-worthy are a selection of five Metro Movietone Revues, featuring various musical and Vaudeville acts of the time. And there is a peek at the trailers to the other four movies in the franchise, as well.

3-1/2 out of 5