20: Omaha Beach

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I’m blown away that Saving Private Ryan did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture in ’98, and shocked that it lost to Shakespeare in Love of all things, a cute film that doesn’t even begin to measure up to Spielberg’s World War II masterpiece. As I continue my list of favorite film scenes, I’m bringing up the Omaha Beach scene from the latter. It stands out as the best in the film, a technical tour de force to this day; a wholly realistic immersive sequence. The scene is really around forty minutes long, essentially the film’s opener if you discount the graveyard framing device (which I find unnecessary), and around a fourth of the entire film’s runtime. There are a few things I notice, when watching it, that strike me as brilliant filmmaking. First, Spielberg shoots in tight close-up or obscured wide shot for most of the beach sequence. You can never get a proper bearing for where anything or anyone is, and the tension that creates is exacerbated by Spielberg never showing the enemy. It’s just chaos and violence. There are a couple of other details that might be clichéd now, but were really fresh the first time I saw the film, and still work effectively. One is the water and blood hitting the camera. I’ve seen this a few times since, but I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before Saving Private Ryan. A nice touch that creates a kind of guerrilla filmmaking feel that belies the massive Hollywood studio undertaking that Saving Private Ryan actually is.  The other memorable detail is the slow-motion, sound distorted portion of the scene where Captain Miller is traumatized.  Truly just a crafty way to show the protagonist struggling with the overwhelming experience.

-Walter Howard-

Monkey Business (1952, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 5

Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe

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(5-Okay Film)

Star-studded. Free-wheeling. Unsuccessful.

Monkey Business is an earnest attempt at recreating the screwball style of comedy which was popular in the late ’30s, early ’40s, but had already gone out of style long before 1952, when this film was released. Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, and Marilyn Monroe, you couldn’t find a better cast. Directed by Howard Hawks, who made a couple of the finest screwball comedies in His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business doesn’t quite work. The zany antics and energy that were so wonderful and amusing in Bringing Up Baby strike me as juvenile here. Perhaps that’s a strange complaint to make about a film in which the characters take a formula that causes them to revert back to their youth. At the comedy’s center is a lovely, loving marriage between Grant and Roger’s characters, and this works, but the stakes aren’t high enough; there’s not a serious enough threat to their inevitable happiness. Too bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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High Spirits (1988, Directed by Neil Jordan) English 5

Starring Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenberg, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Riotous. Inconsistent.

High Spirits has the ingredients for a really good comedy. Peter O’Toole plays owner, Peter Plunkett, who sees his shabby, secluded hotel in Ireland going to pieces, and quickly devises a scheme to pick business up. He’ll pass his hotel off as a haunted resort, and appeal to the paranormal enthusiasts, but as the first wave of tourists roll in, he discovers that the place might actually be haunted. One of the main problems of the film is star, Darryl Hannah, as Mary, a lovely ghost who is saved by one of the tourists, Jack (Guttenberg), and subsequently gushed over. She’s playing an Irish lady, which means she does an Irish accent (which is notoriously difficult to do). Hannah’s accent work is distracting and mars many of her scenes, key scenes at that. Jack and Mary’s romance is meant to be one of the main charms of the film, and it doesn’t come off thanks to that accent. O’Toole on the other hand proves once again to be a fantastic comedic actor. Unfortunately, he’s not in this film more. Overall, there’s much to enjoy. High Spirits is silly fun, but something as small as a main character’s accent really did hamper the entire picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Invitation (2015, Directed by Karyn Kusama) English 8

Starring Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy CorinealdiLindsay Burdge, Toby Huss, John Carroll Lynch

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Slow-Burn. Gripping. Unhinged.

   Dinner parties can be dreadfully awkward affairs. This film is the dinner party from hell. Will (Marshall-Green) is surprised one day with an invitation from his ex-wife, Eden, played by Tammy Blanchard (they tragically lost a son), and her new husband, David (Huisman). Will arrives, greeted by his old friends, but quickly comes to suspect that something strange is going on. In classic mystery-thriller fashion, no one’s suspicious but him. The hosts, Eden and David, are acting really odd, one friend, Choi, hasn’t shown up even though he said he would, plus, there’s two unexplained strangers as guests, and why did David lock all of the doors? Excellent psychological thriller smartly done. You know that something is going to happen, you’re certain it won’t be any good, but director, Kusama, builds the suspense to a fever pitch, and the resulting climax is well-worth the wait. Plays off of the anxiety of someone who is antisocial having to interact with a large group of people. You could also point out its relationship to Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel wherein a group of people at a dinner party are unable to leave a dining room, and react to the growing madness. Terrific finale, strong acting from a terrifying premise.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1)

Interlude (1957, Directed by Douglas Sirk) English 6

Starring June Allyson, Rossano Brazzi, Marianne Koch, Jane Wyatt, Keith Andes, Françoise Rosay

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(6-Good Film)

Opulent. Superficial. Slight.

A timid American woman, Helen Banning (Allyson), moves to Germany for a new job. She reconnects with an old friend, Dr. Dwyer (Andes), who offers her marriage and security for life. It’s a good offer, she knows, but she’s recently met a moody symphony conductor, Antonio Fischer (Brazzi), and can’t help but be drawn to him, though he’s a married man. Rich, lush color bring out the passion in this melodrama, which curious enough seems under-cooked, or too restrained, at least until the climax. The film’s director, Sirk, is an auteur, and as such, each and every picture he made deserves to be seen. Interlude just happens to be one of his more modest efforts. It lacks the undercurrent themes, subtext, or sly tone of his greatest works.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(3)

Christmas Challenge Film #2: A Christmas Prince (2017, Directed by Alex Zamm)

A new one for me, though I feel as though I’ve seen this film a hundred times before. My expectations weren’t high, but 86% on Rotten Tomatoes suggests a decent enough time, and so I took the plunge. For my second movie in my Christmas Film challenge, I watched A Christmas Prince. A Netflix exclusive, which at this point (though the company is ambitious and looking to go bigger) is slightly better than made-for -T.V movie, A Christmas Prince benefits from lowered expectations. It’s the kind of film that goes down easy, makes no waves, hits its marks, and whatever other clichéd metaphors come to mind. It won’t surprise you. It doesn’t exceed expectations. It’s exactly what you’d expect, and that’s alright.

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Rose McIver, terrific in her CW series, iZombie, stars as Amber Moore, an aspiring journalist, stuck at the copy-editor’s desk. For some reason, she’s given the opportunity of a lifetime by her boss. King Richard (I don’t know if this is his name, but this is what I’m calling him) of Aldovia (a made-up kingdom full of people with British accents) has died, and his son Prince Richard (played well by Ben Lamb), a playboy and layabout according to most media and tabloids, might not show up to his own coronation. If he doesn’t appear, he would be abdicating his throne, leaving the country in the hands of his weaselly, scheming cousin Simon (Played Theo Devaney). Amber is given a ticket over to Aldovia where she is to report back on any developments. Simply trying to get an interview at the palace (security at this place is rather lax), Amber gets mistaken for a new tutor for the princess, Emily (Honor Kneafsey), a mischievous little girl with spina bifida. Now in prime position to break any story, Amber must keep up her deception, dig up dirt on the royal family, and control her growing feelings for the Prince, who’s not at all what she thought he’d be.

Okay, the positives. I’ll start with the setting. The royal palace where most of the film takes place is beautiful and a real asset to the fantasy. The actors are all good and likable and attractive. The romance is pretty well modulated without too much schmaltz. Basically, all the familiar beats are played and performed well. There are a few small decisions I liked, one being that the young Princess finds out that Amber is not a tutor but a reporter early on. The whole main character lying, wanting to tell the love interest, but someone else telling them first thing is old-hat. This film at least keeps it from being the whole show. I also wasn’t interested in Amber taming the bratty young princess (you know like Maria does with the von Trapp family). I think A Christmas Prince wisely moves past this quickly. The Princess is only a pain briefly, but becomes Amber’s ally early on. Their relationship is one of the film’s more charming aspects. Director Alex Zamm, responsible for a film I would nominate for worst of all-time (Chairman of the Board), does a fine job here. It’s not particularly well-crafted, but not conspicuously hack either.

A small complaint I have is that it’s not very Christmasy. Christmas is in the background, and not a necessary part of the plot. In any case, I’m a man of many different film-watching moods. Sometimes I want to see a thoughtful, challenging film. Sometimes I just want to watch things blow-up. One mood I occasionally indulge, but rarely advertise is a rom-com mood, when I want to watch a film with beautiful people in beautiful places in a story that you know will end with happily ever after. In this mood, A Christmas Prince works.

(5-Okay Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

Silver Lining’s Playbook (2012, Directed by David O. Russell) English 8

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Shea Wigham

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Peculiar. Winning. Authentic.

A romantic comedy about two people with mental disorders would seem ill-advised. Silver Lining’s Playbook pulls it off. Pat Solitano Jr (Cooper) returns home to Philladelphia after a court-ordered stint in a mental hospital to live with his parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores (De Niro and Weaver). It’s a highly dysfunctional, very loving family devoted to the Eagles (complete with superstitions), and one of the film’s main charms. Though obsessed with reuniting with his ex-wife who has a restraining order against him, Pat Jr. meets and can’t help but be drawn to Tiffany (in a terrific performance by Lawrence), a recent widow with mental problems of her own. Tiffany reminds me of the great leading ladies in classic screwball comedies (Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby and Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey namely). She’s an oddity, but totally confident and lovable. In the end, the film comes down to a bet Pat Sr. makes on the Philadelphia Eagles and his son’s dance competition (with Tiffany as his partner). Despite its predictability, the ending works and gets a lot of laughs. Silver Lining’s Playbook excels due to its performers and how they play off one another. David O. Russell creates great characters and lets his actors go. It’s a joy to watch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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