Merrily We Live (1938, Directed by Norman Z. McLeod) English 7

Starring Constance Bennett, Brian Aherne, Billie Burke, Alan Mowbray, Patsy Kelly, Ann Dvorak, Tom Brown, Clarence Kolb, Bonita Granville, Marjorie Rambeau

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(7-Very Good Film)

Zany. Irreverant. Charming.

Mrs. Emily Kilbourne: Shakespeare was right when he said… oh, I don’t know what he said, but Shakespeare was right!

The 1930’s screwball comedy period gave us so many wonderful classics. Merrily We Live may not be in the same class as, say, My Man Godfrey which it was clearly inspired by, but it is still very good. The wealthy Kilbourne’s have suffered for some time from the eccentric matriarch, Emily’s (Burke), commitment to hiring homeless men to be the family valet. One unqualified valet after the other has stolen goods and left in the middle of the night. Then one day, E. Wade Rawlins (Aherne), rolls in, looking destitute and is hired on the spot. While the family waits for him to do what every valet before him has done, they slowly find themselves growing attached to him; especially the eldest daughter, Geraldine (Bennett). Terrific cast with Billie Burke as the mother stealing the show, Merrily We Live, I expect, will improve on further viewings, once I stop comparing it to my favorite film, My Man Godfrey.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(907)

Avanti! (1972, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 8

Starring Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews, Gianfranco Barra, Giacomo Rizzo

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Long. Charming. Romantic.

Carlo Carlucci: Here, we take our time. We cook our pasta, we sprinkle our Parmigiano, we drink our wine, we make our love…

Wendell Armbruster: What do you do in the evening?

Carlo Carlucci: In the evening, we go home to our wives.

Wendell Armbruster (Lemmon) is as stiff and tightly wound as can be; an American in Italy, not for pleasure but for business of a sort. His father died while on his annual “therapeutic trip” to Italy and Wendell is charged with bringing the body back to Baltimore for the funeral. Wendell finds out that his father was actually, once a year, shacked up with his mistress at the local hotel run by the worldly Carlo Carlucci (Revill). While struggling to get his father back home in time, Wendell meets and slowly falls for Pamela (Mills), the sweet but insecure daughter of his father’s mistress. Life is complicated but Billy Wilder makes it seem worth it. He’s obviously one of the best and he can make the messiest of scenarios charming and sometimes funny. Avanti!, however, is not a wild romp or as comedy-driven as you might expect based on its poster. This is more often a serious romance with bouts of humor and wit. Lemmon and Mills are fantastic. Mills, in particular, is very sweet, and Revill, whom I learn is actually from New Zealand, is convincing and charming as the Italian hotel manager. Avanti! may be too long but I personally don’t think so. I don’t mind long films so long as they’re not boring. Avanti! isn’t boring. It slowly becomes one of the great romances.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(906)

The Mighty Ducks (1992, Directed by Stephen Herek) English 6

Starring Emilio Estevez, Joss Ackland, Lane Smith, Heidi Kling, Josef Summer, Joshua Jackson, Elden Henson, Shaun Weiss, Brandon Adams, Matt Doherty, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Larusso, Danny Tambarelli, Brock Pierce, Aaron Schwartz

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Goofy. Endearing.

Gordon Bombay: A team isn’t a bunch of kids out to win. A team is something you belong to, something you feel, something you have to earn.

Misunderstood by critics, given cult status by the ’90s youth, The Mighty Ducks is something of a mediocre classic. Mediocre in terms of filmmaking and storytelling but a classic nonetheless. It’s fun, it strings together a host of memorable characters including Goldberg and Averman, and it’s a satisfying underdog tale. Gordon Bombay (Estevez, anchoring the film with a genuinely strong performance) is an unscrupulous lawyer who’s forced into community service after a number of driving violations catch up to him. This takes the form of him coaching the local youth hockey team, the worst in their league. He’ll turn them around of course and become a better person along the way.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(905)

Blue Velvet (1986, Directed by David Lynch) English 9

Starring Kyle McLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dean Stockwell, Hope Lange, Brad Dourif, George Dickerson

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(9-Great Film)

Strange. Illusive. Unforgettable.

Frank Booth: In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you’re mine, all the time. Forever. In dreams…

There have been hundreds of essays trying to get to the bottom of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Following Jeffrey Beaumont (McLachlan), a college kid returning to suburban Lumbertown after his father has a stroke, Blue Velvet quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares. Jeffrey finds a severed ear walking home from visiting his father and feels compelled to investigate. Like a dark Alice in Wonderland, Jeffrey goes down the rabbit hole and finds himself in an underworld populated by people like the seductive lounge singer, Dorothy (Rosselini), and pure evil in human form, Frank (Hopper). Of the theories I’ve read about Blue Velvet, and most hold water, I like the Oedipal idea wherein Frank represents the father (whom Jeffrey wants to kill) and Dorothy represents the mother (whom Jeffrey wants to sleep with). I also think voyeurism is a huge part of the film, as it is with any film noir or mystery (private detectives are called “peepers” right?). Jeffrey peaks in through the closet door and sees sex and violence. It’s attractive. Blue Velvet is a gorgeous film with a number of wtf moments. My personal favorite is the prostitute jumping up on the car and dancing while Jeffrey is beaten. A strange film for a strange world.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(904)

Hi Diddle Diddle (1943, Directed by Andrew L. Stone) English 6

Starring Adolph Menjou, Pola Negri, Billie Burke, Martha Scott, Dennis O’Keefe, June Havoc

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(6-Good Film)

Inventive. Madcap. Enjoyable.

Senator Simpson [Looking at hat check girl]: You know, I’ve seen that girl somewhere before.

Liza Prescott: She’s a very particular friend of the director who’s making this picture. He sticks her in every scene he can.

It’s kind of wild seeing a movie from the 1940s break the fourth wall as frequently and as cleverly as Hi Diddle Diddle does throughout its brisk runtime. Meta humor, so-called, seems like a modern invention but watching Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road To…movies and now this has taught me otherwise. Adolph Menjou stars as Hector, a loving but crooked father whose son, Sonny, is getting married to a nice, respectable girl, Janie (Scott), from a seemingly affluent family. Finding, however, that the girl and her family have suddenly been thrust into dire straights, Hector is asked to use his old tricks to make things right. There’s a lot that goes on in this picture including animated shorts, musical numbers, and plenty of witty dialogue. It’s all done to amusing if rather slight success.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(903)

Dressed to Kill (1980, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 6

Starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, David Margulies

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( 6-Good Film)

Lurid. Skilled. Ludicrous.

Director, Brian De Palma, is a technical wizard. He is a master stylist and can do amazing things with a camera. He’s also never made a boring movie. Many times, though, he can work with lesser material, or, in this case, a plot that is pretty inane (not to mention derivative of Hitchcock’s Psycho). Angie Dickinson is Kate Miller, a bored, sexually-frustrated housewife who frequently visits a psychiatrist, Doctor Robert Elliot (Caine), for some guidance. De Palma’s wife at the time, Nancy Allen, plays a prostitute, Liz Blake, who witnesses a violent murder. None of this matters as much as the schlocky atmosphere or the impressive sequences De Palma puts together. The parts are truly worth more than the whole. A lot of the content is pure male fantasy. Supermodels for nurses. Bored housewives. Etc. Like I said, it’s not boring.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(902)

The Cat Returns (2002, Directed by Hiroyuki Morita) Japanese 7

Voices of (English version) Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Tim Curry, Judy Greer, Andy Richter, Kristen Bell, René Auberjonois

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(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Light. Captivating.

From the powerhouse of Japanese animation, or really just animation as a whole, Studio Ghibli, The Cat Returns follows a high school student named Haru (Hathaway) who saves a meandering cat from becoming roadkill only to learn that the cat is royalty in a far off kingdom inhabited exclusively by cats. In danger of being whisked away to said kingdom and forced into marriage, she enlists the help of the cat bureau led by Baron Humbert (Elwes) and the portly cat Muta (Boyle). This is a wonderful, light, oddball fantasy with truly fine voice work by its English cast. Not quite on the level of Hayao Miyazaki’s work but that’s no real indictment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(901)