What I Watched: February 2017

Almost anything I had to say about February was overshadowed by the crazy plot twist in the Oscars ceremony. What an insane thing to have happen! I did have a bit more of an intentionality in the films I watched this February, because it was BP month. However, I still watched a lot of random stuff (well, not so random I guess because they were doing 31 Days of Oscar) that came up on TCM. Here are all the films I caught up with in February 2017:

February 2: Cavalcade 

February 4: Zootopia

I caught up with the favorite to win best animated feature, mostly because it happened to be on Netflix. I did really like the film, but it’s no Inside Out that’s for sure. I enjoyed the main character, mostly because her optimism in the face of institutional pushback reminded me a lot of Leslie Knope. Also loved Idris Elba as the police chief, but did The Godfather homage need to go on that long? and did Disney need to advertise its own movies quite so much? Still, a pretty cute movie. (3/4 stars)

bunny_zootopia

February 5: Around the World in Eighty Days

February 7: Annie Hall + The Band Wagon

The Band Wagon is a movie I’ll never not be happy to watch. It’s still one of my favorites, along with Singin’ in the Rain, from my childhood. These two have been with me so long that I can’t remember the first time I saw either of them, they just sort of always existed. I might have a bit of an inflated opinion of it because of that, but I don’t think so. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen the film in a manner other than our old family VHS (I watched it on TCM), and because of this I really appreciated the Technicolor this time around. It’s not as intense as Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis or Gigi, but I loved it just the same. Other than that, this viewing was accompanied by a running commentary from me and my sister about what we understood as small children and what we understand now, always a fun time. (still 4/4 stars from me)  

February 8: Lion

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I didn’t see Lion in my January catch-up period, for the simple reason that it just didn’t look that interesting to me. I was still on the fence even after all of those Oscar nominations, but finally caved when cinematographer Grieg Fraser won the ASC award. From what I’ve read, La La Land is still the favorite to win the cinematography category at the Oscars despite this, and I can’t really argue from what I’ve seen. Lion is pretty but I couldn’t really see why it would win otherwise (though I might be missing something). All in all, I did like Lion a bit more than I was originally expecting, but only a bit. It still feels pretty unsurprising when all is said and done. However, one aspect I did especially enjoy was the beginning which shows the main character as a kid in India getting separated from his family. Because it’s from a child’s perspective it feels a bit different than what you normally see. The middle and the end when Saroo is an adult… a little bit less so. (a solid 3/4 stars)

February 9: Out of Africa 

February 10: The Broadway Melody + The Unsinkable Molly Brown

I had a musical double feature on this Friday afternoon, and it was kind of interesting to watch these two movie musicals from two totally different time periods. The Broadway Melody was kind of rough and scrappy, but at least in the early going of The Unsinkable Molly Brown I was wishing I was watching that earlier film. The Unsinkable Molly Brown features Debbie Reynolds in one of her most famous roles, based on a Broadway show by Meredith Wilson (The Music Man). It has a somewhat similar folkiness of that show, but I really think that the movie would have benefited from director Charles Walters just turning the film down a couple notches in exuberance in just of about every aspect (the performances, the costumes, the sets). It feels almost unbearably sixties in a way The Music Man never struck me, and the over the top performances can get to you, especially in the early going. The evolution of Molly Brown ultimately grew on me, especially once the actors were reigned in a little bit. The end the film was a lot more enjoyable. Moment of silence of Harve Pressnell, who didn’t really get the movie career he probably would have otherwise if the movie musical hadn’t gone all but extinct in the ’60s. (3/4 stars)

February 12: The Great Ziegfeld + The Dirty Dozen 

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Two more diametrically opposed films you could not find. Needless to say, The Dirty Dozen was definitely the superior of the two. Being my second long movie of the day, I got a little antsy at times so I hope to revisit this film sometime and give it my full attention. I was really struck by how well Lee Marvin anchors the film, and also the general amorality of the whole thing. Though I wouldn’t really expect anything else from Robert Aldrich after the ending of Kiss Me Deadly. (3.5/4 stars, for now)

February 14: The Hurt Locker 

February 15: Ordinary People

February 16: Braveheart

February 18: Kitty Foyle + Ocean’s Eleven (1960)

This weekend we definitely were committed to cleaning out the DVR so we got to a ton of movies that we had recorded off of TCM in the past couple of months and weeks. First among those was Kitty Foyle, probably best known as the movie that won Ginger Rodgers her best actress Oscar. It was alright and amusing in places, but it’s a shame Rodgers didn’t win for one of her better known musical performances. Nevertheless, she does well here, making a sort of melodramatic role in a melodramatic movie a lot more levelheaded than probably another actress would have. (3/4 stars)

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Next was Ocean’s Eleven, the original, which doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the Soderbergh remake. I’m obviously biased, but I much prefer the later film, which does a much better job at letting us get to know its gigantic cast. Here, they all kind of blend together and though Sinatra’s character is positioned as the leader of the group, he doesn’t really emerge as the film’s lead (also no Sinatra singing? I feel cheated). The highlights were definitely Richard Conte and Sammy Davis Jr. (who I’ve never actually seen in a film before, amazingly enough), and the outrageous downbeat ending. I don’t know if they did that to conform to the production code (which at 1960 could maybe be the case?) or they were sincerely trying to send the message that crime doesn’t pay, but damn, that ending was depressing as hell. That last shot though. (2.5/4 stars, though I suspect if the remake didn’t exist I’d think of this as 3/4)

February 19: Birdman of Alcatraz + Bonnie and Clyde 

This was a Burnett Guffey double feature! I bet that’s not something you hear everyday. Bonnie and Clyde is one of my favorite movies ever, and I’ve seen it about a million times, whereas this was a first watch of Birdman of Alcatraz for me. Anyway, I don’t know too much about Guffey (the DP on both of these films), though I have also seen From Here to Eternity which he previously did (though I don’t remember too much about the cinematography off hand). It’s interesting to think of the cinematographer as the constant between two films, because they have to be subordinate to the director of the film in a lot of ways. There aren’t a ton of similarities between the visuals of the two films, Birdman being in black and white, Bonnie and Clyde in color, Birdman in a much more starkly dramatic and slower style, Bonnie and Clyde relatively fast paced and buoyant…. but nevertheless I couldn’t appreciate the style of both films more. (Birdman of Alcatraz 3.5/4 stars, Bonnie and Clyde still at 4/4 stars)

February 20: Mrs. Miniver

February 21: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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I was very excited to see this movie as it was referenced by a lot of people as an influence on La La Land, and I’m really glad I did. I hope to give it a full review sometime in the future, and I think I’ll be able to do that a lot better the second time around. This is one of those movies where you really feel the limitations of your television screen, but nevertheless a completely gorgeous film and an amazing cinematic experience. (3.5 or maybe even 4/4 stars)

February 22: The Informer

This is the earliest John Ford film I’ve seen, and even though it’s far from my favorite, it was pretty interesting to see some of his trademarks at play in a much earlier film. It stars Ford regular Victor McLaglen as a rather pathetic character, an Irishman who’s informed on his friend to the English to get enough money for his girlfriend and him to immigrate to America, but ends up spending all the money on booze and framing a total innocent as the informer. It featured a lot of drunken Irish antics, though not to the comedic “heights” of McLaglen in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and a lot of Irish folk tunes that would be used again in numerous Ford films. The striking visuals apparent in Stagecoach are not quite there yet, but there is some dramatic high contrast lighting in the prison scene. What most jumped out to me is something I can’t elaborate on too much, having not seen Fritz Lang’s M (released 4 years earlier) in a while, but the underground court scene the Irish rebels hold seems reminiscent to me of the underground criminal court in that movie. It would be interesting to watch those two as a double feature I think. (3/4 stars)

February 24: OJ: Made in America 

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I am going to be one of those people who has trouble considering this as a film, but I did watch it in a version that was presented in different parts so that’s probably why. Man, I don’t know if I actually know everything about the OJ Simspon trial now (I was like 1 year old at the time, so I didn’t know much about it at all before watching this), but I feel like I do. That’s how detailed this film is. The depth and breadth into the subjects presented is really impressive here, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since. (4/4 stars)

Total: 22 films (5 rewatches, 3 new, 14 “New to Me”) (check these numbers before posting)

February was a pretty great (and crowded) month for watching for me. I made some great headway in my full reviews, checking off a lot of BP winners off my list. I’m planning to do something a little different in March. Instead of a full theme month where I only review a certain type of film and nothing else, I’m going to do sort of an unofficial theme. This means that I’ll be still doing a normal Blindspot, bringing back my X-Files reviews, and even getting to a few new releases hopefully, but I’ll fill in my extra reviews with films that all have a certain focus to them (more like how I’ve been doing #noirvember). Anticipating La La Land‘s BP win, I was original planning on musicals (hence The Umbrellas of Cherbourg watch), but my plans changed on Sunday night! So in light of Moonlight‘s surprise upset, I’ll be checking out the films of Wong Kar-Wai, a few of which are said to be great influences on Moonlight. I just want to give a little more focus to the films I review rather than it just being whatever film happens to play in front of me during any given month. I’m really excited, and if I’m able to stick to it I’ll definitely put the spotlight on the musical genre in another month. February has been pretty great, here’s to another great month of film in March!

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