Iron Lady

After much hesitation, I finally watched “The Iron Lady” last night. I should explain that although I love films, I don’t often watch them when they come out, mostly because I am not a fan of going to the cinema. There are simply too many competing sounds in a cinema: People talking, munching popcorn, eating nachos or pizza, slurping drinks, and so forth. I have a low tolerance for noise at the best of times, but especially so when I watch a film. I took me particularly longer to see this film because I wasn’t sure whether I should; as it turns out, my misgivings were well founded.

I felt very uncomfortable within the first five minutes of the film; I felt like a voyeur (or should that be voyeuse), watching a woman, who is still very much alive, in a state of mental decline. I was struck by the insensitivity of this film, and wondered how Margaret Thatcher and her family must have felt when the film came out; from what I read, they refused to watch it, and a number of people who knew here said that parts of it were sheer nonsense. It would have been one thing if Thatcher or her designate had given permission to make the film, but this was clearly not the case. I was tempted to stop watching the film after the first 10 minutes, but I stuck with it, thinking it might get better. I am in no way a supporter of Thatcher’s politics; my unease had nothing to do with any personal feelings I have about her as a politician, but my sympathies for her as a human being.

The film itself was a mess; I’m still not sure what its point was. To show Thatcher’s decline into dementia? To focus on Thatcher’s political life? To show Thatcher’s personal side? No one theme emerged clearly, as the film kept switching back from past to present with no apparent rhyme or reason. I have nothing against the use of flashbacks to reflect the progress of a person’s life, but I found this film to be clumsy in its structure. I gained little insight into Thatcher, what made her tick as a human being, and what drove her political life and decisions. Thatcher was portrayed in a very one-dimensional way, focusing mostly on her determination to not compromise, with the suggestion that she did so because she wanted to show that women can be as strong, if not stronger, than men. I sincerely hope that Thatcher was motivated by less facile reasons. Meryl Streep was, as expected, very strong, but is the ability to impersonate someone well sufficient, I wonder? The director seemed to have no clear idea about who Thatcher was, or how she is to be interpreted. A film like this is not a documentary: I expect the film to show more than just random facts without any threads or underlying premise. Given the very divisive nature of Thatcher’s term as PM, and the many significant decisions that impacted millions of Britons, this period and the people who lived in it – even Thatcher – deserved better.


My favourite comedies

As I watched “Some Like it Hot” on TCM last night, I started to reflect on my favourite comedies.  I’m not a particular fan of the comedy genre, I suppose because so many are trite and too fluffy for my taste.  I rarely watch modern comedies, as so often I find that they rely on vulgarity, obvious physical comedy, cliches, and a overall lack of wit.  Nonetheless, there are some comedies that I admire greatly.  In no particular order, they are:

Bringing up Baby:  This 1938 pairing of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, directed by Howard Hawks, actually caused me to fall out of my chair with laughter the first time I saw it. I quite literally had tears running down my eyes; it’s hard to pick the funniest scenes of the film, since there are so many of them.  Seeing Cary Grant dressed in too-short jodhpurs, riding shoes, and flip-flops running after George the dog is worth the price of admission.

His Girl Friday: This 1940 Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell pairing, directed by Howard Hawks, leaves me almost breathless every time I see it.  I can’t imagine how the actors managed spit out the dialogue in that machine-gun pace while still enunciate clearly.  The dialogue is sublimely witty and poignant, and poor Ralph Bellamy is completely outclassed (as intended) by the elegant and wicked Grant.

My Man Godfrey:  This 1936 LaCava film features the elegant, urbane, and witty William Powell, posing as a butler in the wonderfully-insane family under leadership of the long suffering Eugene Pallette.  The dialogue is intelligent, very witty, and sophisticated.

Some Like it Hot: The American Film Institute has chosen this 1959 Billy Wilder film as the funniest American comedy ever made; it’s easy to understand why.  Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as Daphne and Josephine are a perfect duo; Lemmon is the obvious comic relief, while Curtis manages to be graceful even in stilettos.  Curtis’ impression of Cary Grant is the best I’ve ever heard, and Marilyn Monroe has never been better or more beautiful.  Joe E. Brown nearly steals the show with the best closing line of any film.

Duck Soup: I love the Marx Brothers; I didn’t appreciate them when I first saw them, but that’s probably because I was too young to appreciate the subversive nature of their chaotic humour. Fortunately, I have since seen the light.  This 1933 offering is  probably the best of the series with many memorable screwball scenes (especially the mirror) and the always put-upon Margaret Dumont.

It Happened One Night:  I often find Frank Capra to be too sentimental for my liking, but he hit the jackpot with this classic 1934 comedy starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  The film was quite daring for its time, given the shared bedroom scenes (who can forget the walls of Jericho?).  Gable, as usual, imbues charm, machismo, and pragmatism into his performance.  Colbert holds her own, which is no easy feat, given Gable’s powerful presence.

The Philadelphia Story:  Yet another Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn pairing, this time directed by George Cukor in 1934. It’s hard to believe that Hepburn was box-office poison at the time. Cary Grant’s wit and urbanity completely outclass James Stewart; I must admit to bias here, since I’ve never been a  big fan of James Stewart, and I find his Connor character to be self righteous and a dreadful bore. The supporting characters of Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, and Roland Young nearly steal the show so many times.

The Awful Truth: Leo McCarey’s 1937 comedy features Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a soon-to-be-divorced couple who go out of their way to sabotage each others’ romances.  The ending is a foregone conclusion, of course.  The dialogue crackles with wit, sarcasm, and sophistication.

Arsenic and Old Lace: This 1944 Frank Capra vehicle is completely nutty; Cary Grant is possibly the only sane character in the film, other than his new bride.  The acting is often over the top, but the farcical nature of this film allows for this.  The deliciously-evil Raymond Chandler (Oh Canada) as the Boris Karloff knockoff, and the drunken Peter Lorre are superb.

The General: This 1926 Buster Keaton film is simply extraordinary. Keaton manages to take a seemingly simple plot of one train chasing another and turn it into a comedic tour de force.  I’ve loved Buster Keaton since I was very young; I was always captivated by the contrast between that stone face, and the outrageous situations he finds himself in.

As you can tell, I’m a bit partial to Cary Grant ….



10 Great Christopher Plummer Performances

I am delighted to share Movie Morlock’s tribute to ten of Christopher Plummer’s performances over the years.  Like every Canadian I know, I am delighted and proud that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar and a Golden Globe this year.  Plummer has been an outstanding ambassador for Canada, both via his superlative acting talents, as well as his charm, grace, and humour. In typical Canadian fashion, Plummer apologized to his fellow nominees at the Golden Globe, and made a  gracious and sweet acceptance speech at the Oscars.

I’m including a wonderful interview that Mr. Plummer made with Strombo (sorry for the Canadian reference) last year that captures his wonderful self-deprecating humour and that irresistible twinkle in his eye.


Managing my film collection

I’m an avid film buff; I saw my first black and white film at an early age and was hooked instantly.  Keeping track of the films I own and, more importantly, the films I’ve watched, has been a rather painful process over the years.  I’ve tried Access databases, but they are simply too cumbersome, as so much data about a film must be entered manually.  I was using a social media tool to manage my films, but was not impressed with the quality of the metadata (namely, title, date, and image); furthermore, the tool was discontinued earlier this year.  I came across Eric’s Movie Database yesterday and  am thrilled with it so far.  It’s a programme you download to your desktop, so you’re not sharing your films in a social forum which, to be honest, I prefer.  The best feature of this programme is that it downloads records from IMDB; I simply enter the title of the film, and IMDB provides me with a list of matches from which I can choose.  The record downloads very quickly, and contains a lot of very important metadata for a film buff and amateur historian.  You can choose how to sort and filter your films.  I like the option of viewing the films by the image on their jewel case. Below is the metadata downloaded for one of my favourite Warner Brothers gangster films:

I can add my own metadata to the record but, as you can see, it’s already very complete.  I value the feature that allows me to specify whether I own the film, wish to see it, or have already seen it.  Considering the considerable number of films I have seen in my life, so want to distinguish between the films I actually own and those that I’ve seen but do not own.