Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Night of the Iguana (1964)

“I'm panicking!”
“I know that.”
 “A man can die of panic!”
“Not when he enjoys it as much as you do, Dr. Shannon.”

            I like how hot weather creates tension in films. Usually the characters are all on edge ready to rip each other’s throats from being miserably hot frustrated. Heat always makes me nervous and anxious when I watch a film set in a hot climate because I absolutely hate the heat. In the winter you can layer clothes and take those layers off when you get warm but in the summer time you cannot walk around in public buck naked! The topical, blazing hot weather in The Night of the Iguana creates a fascinating amount of tension and makes the characters perfectly crazy and on edge.
            Re. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) was once a priest. One day during a sermon he snapped and yelled at the parishioners to leave. Now he is working as a tour guide for a company down in Mexico. Shannon’s latest group is a bunch of old ladies and one young adventurous girl named Charlotte. Charlotte has a mad, obsessive crush on Shannon. He tries to push her away but she keeps coming back to him. Her chaperone Ms. Fellowes is a control freak and goes out of her mind when Charlotte is not near her. Ms. Fellowes threatens to call Charlotte’s father who is a big judge in Texas if Shannon goes near the girl again. One night Charlotte goes into Shannon’s room. When Ms. Fellowes finds Charlotte is not her bed she has a huge blow up and goes to Shannon’s room where the girl is.
            Ms. Fellowes sends a telegram to Charlotte’s father and has his reply sent to the new hotel they are going to. Shannon takes over driving the bus. Instead of going to the nice air conditioned hotel where the telegram will be sent he takes the ladies to the hotel of an old friend. The man who used to run the hotel has died and his wife Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner) has taken over. Maxine obliges Shannon and lets him and his group stay even though the hotel is usually closed in August.
            After everyone has settled in, a woman named Hannah (Deborah Kerr) and her grandfather come walking up the steep driveway. Hannah’s grandfather is ninety-seven years old and they have walked and hitched their way all over Mexico. She explains that he recites poetry and she paints and that is how they earn their money. Maxine is not happy that woman and the old man cannot pay for their stay. Hannah tells Maxine that she is at her mercy for whatever needs to be done.
            Charlotte once again sneaks into Shannon’s room. He has a meltdown, his nerves are completely shot. She talks insanely and obsessively about how she wants to run away with him and get married. After their blow up Charlotte runs down to the beach and gets drunk. The bus driver is a young man. He finds Charlotte and tries to fight some locals to get them to leave her alone. Charlotte drunkenly falls in love with the bus driver and no longer has feelings for Shannon.
            Shannon gets fired from the tour company. The bus driver and Charlotte manage to get the piece of the engine from the bus from Shannon that he had removed. When the ladies leave Shannon tells Hannah that he is going on a long swim to China, meaning he plans on killing himself by swimming until he is exhausted. Maxine’s men manage to get to Shannon and bring him to land before anything serious happens. They tie him to a hammock. He is terribly mean to Maxine about how she had wanted to sleep with other men besides her husband when they were married and knows about her trips down to the beach at night. She runs away down to the beach. Shannon and Hannah are left alone to talk. She tells him that once she had to fight off her own demon and did it through sheer determination and will power.
            Maxine comes back from the beach. Hannah has cut Shannon loose from the hammock. The grandfather comes out and proclaims he has finished his poem he had been working on for twenty-years. He has Hannah write it down. When he is done the old man dies in wheelchair.
            Since her grandfather is now dead Hannah has no need to be in Mexico anymore and has no more need to travel. Shannon wants to go with her but she tells him that it would be a bad idea for them to travel together. Maxine wants to leave the hotel. She tells Shannon and Hannah she is willing to give them a part in the hotel if they run it for her. Hannah still wants to leave and does. Shannon tells Maxine that he is staying with her.
            I loved Ava Gardner, Richard Burton, and Deborah Kerr in this film. Ava Gardner was wonderful from the moment she came on the screen. She put on this great southern accent and had the best bad ass attitude. She spoke what is now one of my all time favorite lines from a film: Ms. Fellowes is pissed off that Shannon had Maxine cancel the call she had put into Texas. She calls Maxine his paramour and Maxine replies “Miss Fellowes, honey, if paramour means what I think it does you're gambling with your front teeth.” Just the way Gardner said that was perfection. She had an attitude but it was not a full on attitude. You can see the annoyance Maxine had for this woman boiling under the surface. Gardner, forty-six and a lot hard partying and living showing on her face and body, was still stunningly gorgeous. I have seen a lot of her films and her performance here is one of her best. Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play, said that Gardner’s portrayal of Maxine was exactly how he had envisioned the character.
            Deborah Kerr was good. Usually she plays a polite English lady in dramas and here her character was a bit flighty and scattered. I enjoyed seeing a lighter side to her. Fun fact: Kerr and Gardner starred together in The Hucksters in 1947. Gardner had just made The Killers which was a huge success for her so MGM stuck her in a film with Clark Gable. The Hucksters, I believe, was Kerr’s first leading role in America. Kerr’s and Gardner’s scenes together were awesome. Their scenes were the tough, jealous woman and the sweet, innocent woman who just wanted to help out a bit. They were also a bit comical.
            Richard Burton for once did not drive me up a wall in a film. Of course he overacted and hammed up some of his scenes but for the most part he kept the character pretty under control. I liked all his scenes with Ava Gardner they looked good together.
            John Huston is such a great director. He worked with Ava Gardner before and the two of them got along very well. He always got fantastic performances from her. His close ups of the characters got you into their tensions and anxieties.
            The Night of the Iguana is a very good film. The direction and acting were brilliant. The story was alright and I think if there had been lesser actors playing the characters and a lesser director the story and the characters could have been too overwhelming. The Night of the Iguana is definitely worth watching especially for Ava Gardner’s performance

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Silent Sundays: The Headless Horseman (1922)

“I know not why I am here. I have no knowledge of witchcraft.”

I remember as a kid one of my favorite things to watch was Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I do not think I ever really watched Mr. Toad but I always watched Ichabod. I think I may have always known it was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow because I did not even know the whole thing was called Ichabod and Mr. Toad until a few years ago. Anyway, I remember loving the story and getting tense at the end when Ichabod has to cross the bridge. I can still remember the Horseman’s evil laugh as he chased Ichabod. I can even still hear Bing Crosby narrating and singing all the songs.
I do also watch the show Sleepy Hollow. I like the combination of the actual story by Washington Irving with some US history along with some mythology. The show started off good and then just got really, really weird. At this moment I am still debating on whether or not to continue watching it. I think I am going to give it a few episodes more see how the second season plays out.
I discovered that there had been a silent version of Sleepy Hollow called The Headless Horseman from 1922. I was not expecting the film to be anything like Ichabod or the TV show which are two very different extremes of the story. I was interested to see how the silent film differed from the other takes. Unfortunately it fell very flat.         
Ichabod Crane (Will Rogers) is the new school master in the Dutch town of Sleepy Hollow in 1790. The townspeople are not sure about him because he is not from the area nor is he Dutch. He has come from a place in Connecticut. The town of Sleepy Hollow is famous for its story of the Headless Horseman. It is believed the Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian soldier searching for his missing head he had lost in battle. Ichabod has heard about the tale and believes it to be true.
The town beauty Katrina Van Tassel has many suitors. Her main suitor is the local mischief maker Brom Bones. She and Brom are out riding one day past the school where Ichabod is teaching. Ichabod sees Katrina and is immediately taken with her. One of the boys in his class tells the teacher that Katrina is the town coquette. Ichabod is furious with the student for saying such a thing like that about Katrina and smacks him with a stick repeatedly. The boy goes home and tells his mother what has happened. The mother wants Ichabod dismissed but the father says the boy probably did something to deserve it.
To earn extra money Ichabod teaching singing classes for the church. Katrina is in his class. Brom Bones was but he got mad that Ichabod had showed up so late and stormed out. After class Katrina invites Ichabod to her house the following night for dinner. Brom Bones walks in to take Katrina home and he is immediately jealous that she is flirting with someone else. The next night at Katrina’s Ichabod sees how wealthy her family is. Now all he can think about is how to win her affection. After dinner he and Katrina go for a walk. She asks him if it is true that he has read a book on the history of witchcraft. He has and he is very well versed in it. Brom Bones overhears this conversation and gathers up some of his gang. He and his gang go to the school and flip all the desks and furniture around making it appear that ghosts were the culprits. When they are done with their heinous deed they tear through the town on their horses. Ichabod hears the hoof beats and frantically jumps into his bed believing them to be from the Headless Horseman.
After church one morning Ichabod and Kartina walk through the graveyard. Brom Bones finds the Headless Horseman’s grave and wants them to come take a look. Ichabod turns in a frightened hurry back towards the church.
The mother of the son Ichabod hit thinks he is in line with the Devil after his schoolroom was found tossed and hearing that he has read a book on witchcraft. Soon gossip spreads and the whole town begins to suspect and accuse him of witchcrafts. One boy goes to his mother and says that Ichabod has poisoned him by witchcraft. The town was just about to tar and feather Ichabod when a slave tells Mr. Van Tassel that he saw Brom Bones and his gang tear the schoolroom apart. Mr. Van Tassel gets the “poisoned” boy to confess that Brom Bones made him lie and gets to where the town is keeping Ichabod just in time to stop him from being tarred.
Mr. Van Tassel invites Ichabod to a party some time later. The party is being held at night. Ichabod arrives at the party very much on cloud nine and completely in love. During the party local men begin recalling tales of their encounters with the Headless Horseman. All these stories make Ichabod extremely nervous and panicky. Before he leaves to go home Ichabod asks Katrina to marry him. She says no in a certain way that breaks Ichabod’s heart.
            Now that he does not have any happy thoughts in his mind on the dark ride home thoughts of the Headless Horseman creep into his mind. Now Ichabod is even more panicked and afraid. He comes upon what appears to be the Headless Horseman. He is chased all the way down the road until he is knocked off his own horse by the Horseman. With Ichabod all the way in the distance, Brom Bones takes off his costume.
            Ichabod Crane does not show up to teach school for several days. His disappearance is a sign to some of the townspeople that he was taken away by the Headless Horseman. Whatever the case that drove Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow it allowed Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel to get married. Years later someone from the town would report seeing Ichabod Crane alive in Nieu Yorke (as they spelled it) and he was now a justice in a court system. But to several people in Sleepy Hollow they will always believe that the Headless Horseman took Ichabod Crane away.

            As I mentioned at the beginning of the review The Headless Horseman fell flat. There were some scenes that were good and some scenes that just dragged. At the beginning of the film there was a scene with the actual ghost of the Headless Horseman but that was all for the entire film. I guess the Headless Horseman at the end could be seen as ambiguous because it could have been Brom Bones but then it could have been the real Headless Horseman. I do not strongly recommend watching this version of The Headless Horseman or Sleepy Hollow but if you like the story as told in either the cartoon version or the TV version, give the silent version a try.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grown Up Movie Star (2009)

“You can't ground me for being a lesbian!”
“Yes I can.”
“Hypocrite! Can I at least use the phone?”

            I always enjoy getting into an actor or actress that is on a TV show I am currently watching. As any good, loyal fan would do I go through their filmography and try to find as many movies or other TV shows they were in as I can. I like doing this with an actor or actress because you never know if you are going to find a movie you like or maybe you will find a movie you never thought in a million years you would ever sit through. Also you never know if you will find a movie that will inspire you in some way. I always tend to find and like the movies no one has ever heard of and they tend to be the ones I like the most. They are almost like finding a treasure. Another reason I like watching movies in an actor or actress’s filmography is because you get to see what other things they have done besides the TV show you are used to seeing them in on a weekly bases. For the past few months I have been a raging fanatic of the show Orphan Black and bow down to the ridiculous awesomeness of its star Tatiana Maslany. Since I am a huge fan of Maslany’s I of course have been going through her filmography. The most recent of her films I have watched is Grown Up Movie Star.  
            Ruby Fry (Maslany) was in the car when her mother finally decided to leave their small Canadian town for Los Angeles to make it as an actress. When Ruby got out of the car her mother just took off and left her and her sister with their dad. Ever since that day Ruby has been acting out in any way she possibly could. Most of it is out of curiosity, wanting to grow up quickly, and some of it is down to being a rebellious teenager.
            In school Ruby meets a boy from Colorado. She is fascinated, at first, that he is from the United States and asks him if he has ever met anyone famous and much to her dismay he never has. She dreams of joining her mother in LA and becoming a famous actress. Her dad’s friend Stewart is a photographer and begins taking what he calls head shots of her. As part of her curiosity Ruby begins to think about sex. She goes about asking and even having it the wrong way.
            While trying to figure herself out, Ruby has to deal with the realization that her dad is actually gay. She and her sister are already mad at their dad for once being a professional hockey player who blew his career by smuggling drugs over the border. Because of this their dad has never been able to take them to Disneyland where they have always wanted to go as a family.
            Ruby’s dad has it with her after she got into some big trouble. He calls the mother to tell her that Ruby is coming to live with her. The mother meanwhile is a crack head living with another user in some hotel. Ruby is looking forward to going to LA but when her dad almost beats Stewart to a pulp trying to protect her and her sister and gets arrested Ruby realizes she loves her dad and would be lost not living with him.
            The acting by everyone in this movie was brilliant. Of course Tatiana Maslany is the stand out. The girl was in fact so good in this movie that she won the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Dramatic/Breakout Performance for Grown Up Movie Star at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. Maslany was very good. I give her all the credit in the world because I think she was supposed to thirteen in this movie when in real life in 2009 she was twenty-four. She is just beyond insanely talented for her age (at the time of this writing Maslany is twenty-eight). The rest of the cast was great. The characters were very well written and very well acted especially the part of Ruby’s grandfather whose scenes were crazy.
            Grown Up Movie Star is an oddly dramatic, sad, kind of tragic movie yet it has some dark humor in it. I have seen a few movies that have been made in Canada and they all seem to be dark and twisty (Orphan Black is exactly the same way with the drama and then dark comedy). I am not complaining because I have liked all the movies including this one. I am glad I found Grown Up Movie Star it is definitely one of those movies that not a lot of people have heard of that I like. It is not one of the best movies I have ever seen but it was good, it was unique. It is definitely a movie I want to own on DVD eventually.