Honeymoon (2014)


Honeymoon ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Leigh Janiak Magnolia Pictures/Magnet Releasing (Official Site) 87 Minutes In Theaters September 12, 2014 (Limited) – “Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.” John Chrysostom, as quoted in The Bridal Bed (Joseph Braddock, 1961)   Newlyweds Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway), suffering from acute hipsterism and chronic adorableness, make their way to a belated honeymoon spent at her family’s vacation home, a cabin located, as they say, in the woods. It’s a silly premise, and it’s to first-time director Leigh Janiak’s credit that Honeymoon overcomes such a dire opening to become an intriguing, tight little film. Once the newlyweds arrive at the lakeside cabin, their enthusiasm unsurprisingly turns into an awkward period of adjustment, each revealing some slightly off-kilter habits and weird turns of phrase. When the couple run into Bea’s childhood friend Will (Ben Huber) and his sickly wife Annie (Hanna Brown), things turn from awkward to uncomfortable. Paul is responsible for most of this attitude change. Very early on, he seems to be experiencing a perverse kind of buyer’s remorse, marriage triggering some very unappealing and base behaviors in him. Her physicality unsettles him; her self-reliance baffles him. By the time Bea is found in the middle of the night, naked and freezing in the woods after an episode of sleepwalking, he only briefly considers she may be in trouble, and instead suspects she had been hooking up with Will. Clearly, it took precious little for … Continue reading

Warner Archive: The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926)

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When it came to attracting the eye of some of the biggest silent screen legends, Vilma Bánky had no peer. After acting in a few films in her native Hungary, producer Samuel Goldwyn spied her in 1925 and persuaded her to come to Hollywood. She agreed, and became an immediate sensation. First paired with Ronald Colman in the hit The Dark Angel (1925), she went on to play against Rudolph Valentino in two of his most famous films, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik, before returning to costar yet again with Colman in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). And if being romanced on screen by Valentino and Colman wasn’t enough, take note: the other rival for her affections in Barbara Worth was none other than Gary Cooper in his first featured role. The Winning of Barbara Worth is gorgeously shot by legendary cinematographers George Barnes, already an established quantity in Hollywood, and Gregg Toland, who was just starting out. Filmed in Black Rock Desert near the towns of Trego, Winnemucca and Gerlach, many locals were hired as extras, and ranchers were paid to round up their livestock and bring them in for several scenes. The conditions were brutal, with temperatures reaching up to 124°F, and sandstorms and thunderstorms rolling in with alarming frequency. There were injuries, fisticuffs and alarming issues with some of the genuine cowboys hired on, a few of whom ended up in jail. Based on the best-selling book by Harold Bell Wright, adapted by … Continue reading

Warner Archive: Arrowsmith (1931)

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In 1931, producer Samuel Goldwyn was in a real bind. His film The Unholy Garden had been a complete disaster from start to finish, enraging Ronald Colman, Goldwyn Pictures’ star actor, who never quite got over having been contractually forced to appear in the film. A horrifying production, terrible reviews and even worse box office receipts plagued the film. As Goldwyn’s biographer A. Scott Berg put it, “The Unholy Garden would forever stand as the worst blot on the records of everyone involved with it.” It was that kind of bad movie. When Goldwyn chose Sinclair Lewis’ award-winning novel Arrowsmith for Colman’s next film, he did so with nothing but good intentions and hopes of repairing both his and Colman’s reputations. In choosing Arrowsmith, however, he immediately (and surely inadvertently) saddled the film with it’s own reputation of, as Self-Styled Siren put it, being “dull Oscar-bait.” Where there is an award, there will be award bait, and it’s true that Arrowsmith fits that bill to an extent. The biggest flaw of this cinematic adaptation — and perhaps the reason no studio producer was interested in the novel in the first place — is that paring the story down meant the little nuance Lewis’ novel possessed was lost in on-the-nose dialogue and visuals, with not a simile or metaphor to be found. As my beloved Mordaunt Hall said in the New York Times on Arrowsmith’s release: This highly praiseworthy translation of the career of Martin Arrowsmith, M. D., may seem a … Continue reading

Are You Here (2013)

Zach Galifianakis in Are You Here

Are You Here ★★☆☆☆ Director: Matthew Weiner Millennium Entertainment 113 Minutes In Theaters August 22, 2014 (Limited) and on DVD September 30, 2014 – Quirky comedy Are You Here (2013) is a tale of the most bourgeois of bromances between two pals in a bizarre, yet strangely dull, codependent relationship. This is the first feature-length outing from Matthew Weiner, a writer-director with one hell of a pedigree. Despite his stellar writing on the iconic “Mad Men,” Are You Here reflects none of the nuance or introspection audiences have come to expect from his work. Owen Wilson plays the inexplicably-named Steve Dallas, an Annapolis weatherman and womanizer whose loyalty to buddy Ben (Zach Galifianakis) is based not just on a lifetime of friendship, but copious weed and the fact that only an emotionally askew person like Ben would put up with Dallas in the first place. Ben is not an easy person to love, either; his passions, while noble, turn hostile at whim. When Ben’s estranged father dies, he returns to his hometown with Steve in tow. The situation is as uncomfortable as expected: his sister Terri (Amy Poehler) is perpetually angry, especially at their dad’s young widow (Laura Ramsey), and when Ben is left the bulk of the large estate, the situation becomes critical. Though ostensibly about Ben’s family, the film’s real focus is on Steve, where a rakish Wilson plays the exact kind of rakish character he’s played for well over a decade. Steve spends his days trolling for … Continue reading

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)


Valerie (Geena Davis) is a gorgeous beautician living in the San Fernando Valley with her doctor fiance Ted (Charles Rocket). For reasons never explained — his girlfriend is Geena Davis, for cryin’ out loud — Ted likes to boff other women, thus neglects Valerie in the bedroom and can’t get too worked up for their impending nuptials. The day after he gets his cheatin’ ass kicked out of their gorgeous Valley home, an adorable spaceship holding three very fuzzy aliens crashes in the pool. They can’t speak English and think Lava Lamps are refreshing beverages, but otherwise are mostly harmless. Quick-thinking Valerie gets her stoner friend Woody (Michael McKean) to drain the pool so the ship can be repaired, but it will take a day for the water to drain. In an attempt to keep the aliens from being discovered as, well, aliens, she brings them to the beauty shop she works at, where master beautician Candy (Julie Brown) shaves them all down and turns them into hunks, as one does: Shenanigans ensue as they go out and party the night away. Meanwhile, jerkface Ted starts to suspect something is up, while Valerie and the captain of the alien ship, Mac (Jeff Goldblum) fall in love. A see-through hot pink swimsuit, just like grandma used to wear.   Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) exists solely as a vehicle for beefcake and cheesecake. Okay, sure, there are some musical numbers, and Julie Brown’s script and pop songs are a hoot — … Continue reading

The Congress (2013)


The Congress ★★★☆☆ Director: Ari Folman Drafthouse Films (Official Site) 122 Minutes Now Available on iTunes and On Demand | In Theaters August 29, 2014 – “Lousy choices,” Al tells his client. “That’s your whole story.” Al (Harvey Keitel) is agent and frustrated father figure to Robin Wright (playing a riff on herself) who, as Al reminds her, has only one last chance at big screen success. Miramount Pictures is giving her that one chance, but as she discovers when she meets with the studio president (Danny Huston), they don’t want her to play a role: they want to scan her. Miramount tells her this is her last chance, that everyone will be storing their likenesses and talent in studio computers, and if she passes this up she’ll never appear on screen again. And the beauty of this system, she is told, is that they no longer have to worry about her aging, her needs, or that pesky thing called free will. The Congress, the new film by Ari Folman, treats this astounding offer as simply the next step in where we are already headed, and is probably right to do so. After all, nearly 20 years ago, computers resurrected Fred Astaire so he could dance with a vacuum cleaner; just two years ago, computers shaved a decade or more off the entire cast of The Hobbit (2012). It’s not just that we have the technology to do these things, but that audiences, wanting both the reassurance of well-known faces … Continue reading

Another Dawn (1937)

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By the time Kay Francis began filming Another Dawn in the fall of 1936, she was exhausted. She was the most popular, profitable actress at Warner Bros., and the studio took full advantage, putting her in one film after another without break in between. Another Dawn had originally been intended as a Bette Davis vehicle in 1935, but Bette, angry with the sub-par projects she was being given after her successes in Of Human Bondage, Dangerous and The Petrified Forest, left for the U.K. in protest and sued to try to get out of her contract. While that played out, Another Dawn was briefly attached to Tallulah Bankhead, then given to Kay Francis. Francis was paid $5,250 per week in 1936, and the budgets for her films were tremendous. This is obvious in Another Dawn, where Kay was paired with another big Warner star, Errol Flynn, fresh off his triumph in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). Brigade had achieved some terrific California-for-Arabia scenery shots, and the film proved massively popular, becoming the biggest money-maker of the year for WB. Thus Another Dawn was created in Brigade’s image, the Somerset Maugham story that was originally meant for Davis repurposed into a Colonialist, Arabian adventure designed to cash in on Errol’s fame. The film featured similar set design as Brigade, too, though it also inherited the problems Brigade had suffered; reportedly, the imported palm trees were hazardous, falling near actors during scenes, and could only be shot for three minutes … Continue reading

A Measure of the Sin (2013)

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A Measure of the Sin ★★★★☆ Dir: Jeff Wedding Brink Vision (Official Site) 76 minutes – A childhood spent in the safety of a mother’s care becomes a nightmare straight out of the Old Testament in Jeff Wedding’s A Measure of the Sin. This chilling underground horror film follows the life of 20-something Meredith (Katie Groshong), one in a trio of beautiful young women living with The Man (Stephen Jackson) in a dilapidated farm house, away from civilization. This nameless, almost-elderly patriarch of what must surely be a cult essentially owns the women who, just like a bad joke from the 1970s, are comprised of one brunette — Meredith — as well as the blonde Alicia (Starina Johnson) and the redhead Ruth (Dale Rainey). Alicia and Ruth are content to spend their days bathing together, brushing each others’ hair, giggling and standing around nude. The two court the audience’s gaze, their allure less provocation than a blatant accusation. But Meredith demurs, wanting no part of their frolic but only to leave The Man, the isolation, and the enormous black bear that torments her at night. It’s a bear only she can see, and she believes it to be the father of her child. Despite the pregnancy, Meredith makes her plans to escape. We see her childhood education must have been truncated when she and her mother embarked on a trek through a world rich with the bounty of the land, yet full of snakes. An even more distant flashback shows … Continue reading

The John Ford Blogathon: Fort Apache (1948)

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Fort Apache was the first film of what would become known as director John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy.” Though Ford worked within the same historical period in other films, too, these three movies — Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) — were loosely tied together thanks not only their shared historical setting, but because they were released consecutively and featured period-appropriate music used as strong thematic elements, the role of Irish immigrants in the United States’ brutal expansion through Native lands, and a subversive, critical approach to the policies of the United States government. Continue reading

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)


The Battered Bastards of Baseball ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Directors: Chapman Russell Way, Maclain Way A Netflix Production 79 Minutes Premieres on Netflix Friday, July 11, 2014 – The Portland Mavericks were the most popular minor league baseball team in the country through much of the 1970s. They were the WKRP of sports, a highly photogenic, ragtag band of misfits with a host of issues and hearts of gold. The brainchild of actor Bing Russell, who formed the team when the Portland Beavers, a AAA-league team, moved to Spokane in 1973, the Mavericks were the only independent team not affiliated with any major league club. Russell’s project was considered a joke at first, but became a stunning success: not only could the Mavericks play, but they put on a damn good show. Sports writers were stunned, fans were ecstatic, but the businessmen behind the major leagues were livid. That all-too-common conflict of our modern capitalist society was sparked and battle lines were drawn as moneymakers once again tried to keep the little guy down, because the little guy always eats into the profit margin. The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the newest documentary from Netflix, follows Bing Russell, best known to audiences as Deputy Clem Foster on “Bonanza” — the more discerning cinephile will recognize him as Red from Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) — as he dreams up, then manages, the Portland Mavericks. Bing grew up working with New York Yankees legends such as Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio, but … Continue reading