Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 20 Favorite Actresses Meme

With many thanks to Nicole and C. K. Dexter Haven for tagging me, here are my 20 five (sorry, but it's finals week and even picking these few took longer than I thought) favorite actresses. It'll be interesting to look back on this in a few months or a year or so and see how my tastes change.

Bette Davis

Ingrid Bergman

Ginger Rogers

Katharine Hepburn

Carole Lombard

Friday, December 12, 2008

Did anyone ever tell you that you have a dishonest face?

As a former Catholic school student, I'm used to seeing overwhelmingly negative depictions in the media. The Bells of St. Mary's, therefore, turned out to be a very welcome surprise. Despite the myriad differences between Catholic schools of the 40's and Catholic schools of the 90's and 2000's, I could relate to this film far more easily than any modern portrayal I've seen.

The story revolves around a priest, Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) who is assigned to oversee a school headed by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). They both have dramatically opposing viewpoints and clash throughout the film, but each is rooted in what they believe is truly best for the children in their care; this is very true to my own experiences with priests and nuns in educational settings, so I appreciated the care given to both points of view.

One theme of the movie hit especially close to home for me, and that was the financial troubles facing St. Mary's. Unfortunately, this is one issue that hasn't changed over the years. My former elementary school was forced to shut its doors a few years ago, as was the other school in the same town, the elementary school that was attached to my former high school, and another high school in the diocese, just to name a few examples. Sister Benedict's prayers for a miracle were particularly touching since I've seen firsthand that often in those situations, nothing short of a miracle will help.

I obviously enjoyed this movie on a personal level, but as a film itself it was definitely worth watching. Bergman and Crosby are a wonderful match, and their good-natured quarreling is highly amusing, especially as they slowly learn to see from each other's perspectives (Sister Benedict as a boxing instructor, anyone?). The "miracle" they finally receive is more than a bit far-fetched, but it works in context and is a nice way to wrap up that part of the story.

I also really liked Patsy's side plot, because I think her revelation at the end is something anyone can relate to -- who hasn't hesitated to leave someplace that had become a second home? Even now as a college student I joke about deliberately failing a semester or two just to postpone graduation, so I knew exactly what Patsy was feeling. Sister Benedict's leniency here showed just how well she understood her students. Art-to-life ratio aside, I think the principal characters' dedication to the students is what makes this film work as well as it does.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No man is a failure who has friends...

It's A Wonderful Life is my dad's favorite holiday movie, and so it's played in the backgroud of more Christmas Eve gatherings and winter-break Sundays than I can remember. I've seen this movie more times than I can count, however I never really sat down and watched it. For years I dismissed it as just another overrated holiday special; my distaste for the movie continued even after I discovered that black and white movies themelves weren't the dull artifacts I'd assumed them to be. Last night, however, I took a much-needed break from finals week to watch the film as part of the Honors film series I've been attending all semester (it replaced Tommy Boy, which is apparently not academic enough). I felt like I was watching it for the first time. Despite the myriad viewings I whined my way through for years, I had somehow managed to miss large chunks of the story that turned out to be fairly important to differentiating the movie itself from its many parodies and imitations.

For example: Potter. I was vaguely aware that the plot involved a miserly old man, but I never picked up on the Potter's Field and Potterville and other references, and I definitely never realized just how much screen time he really got. And speaking of characters I never paid attention to, has there always been an Uncle Billy in this movie? Thomas Mitchell put in a wonderful performance here as the good-hearted but bumbling drunkard, and I'm glad to have finally taken notice of it.

I also have to say that it was the first time I really saw James Stewart as a good dramatic actor. He's always kind of struck me as kind of an overgrown kid, with those lanky limbs and that boyish face, and I usually associate him with lighter comedic roles, such as Macauley 'Mike' Connor in The Philadelphia Story. He starts out a typical good guy in this film, too, but by the time George Bailey hits rock bottom, when he's sitting in Martini's getting drunk and praying for a miracle, I absolutely believe Stewart as a man with no visible way out.

While I don't think It's A Wonderful Life will ever be my favorite movie, my dad can look forward to a much less-protested viewing this Christmas. Seeing it as a movie instead of an obligatory family tradition was certainly an interesting experience. It also makes me wonder what other movies might go unappreciated just because they're so omnipresent. Have you ever come across a film you've already seen twenty million times, only to really see it on viewing twenty million and one?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Parce que vous ne pleurez pas...

Now that National Novel-Writing Month is over, I'm hopefully going to be focusing on this blog a lot more. To celebrate my sixth victorious year in a row, I'm going to do something a bit different -- like discussing a movie that was filmed during my own lifetime. Quelle horreur!

The movie in question is actually a French trilogy from the 1990's, which I had the opportunity to watch over the last three Tuesdays in November thanks to Rowan's International Center. Directed by Kryzystof Kieślowski, each film in Trois Couleurs ("Three Colors") represents a color of the French flag and an ideal of the French revolution -- Bleu for liberté, Blanc/Bialy for égalité, and Rouge for fraternité. Each movie's IMDb page bills the films as a trilogy about French society, but I found them to be more portraits of individuals who could conceivably represent anyone from anywhere under the right (or horribly wrong) circumstances.

Bleu, the first film and my favorite of the three, is about a woman who essentially attempts to stop living after losing her husband and daughter in a car crash. Life, however, finds her anyway as she is drawn into forging new connections with her late husband's colleague, her new neighbor, and even her husband's mistress. It's followed by Blanc, which tells the story of a man who returns to his native Poland after his wife humiliates and divorces him due to his impotence. He establishes a friendship with a suicidal family man, and carries out an elaborate scheme of revenge against his ex-wife. The final film, Rouge, details the unlikely connection between a model and a reclusive retired judge, whom she discovers eavesdropping on his neighbors.

The trilogy is in French, except for Blanc which is largely in Polish, but much of the story is told through actions, emotions, and visual symbols rather than words. Each movie's title color figures heavily into the composition of each scene. These movies would not fall into the category of light entertainment; they are frenzied and thought-provoking, with abrupt endings that require a minute or two to digest. The subtle ways in which the three films are connected suggest something about the universality of life, even as each character seems completely isolated. The films function both on their own and as a whole; if you have the chance to see one or all of them, don't pass it up.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You were Garbo, smoke and deceit...

Raquelle posted a list of some of the strangest search terms that people used to find her most excellent blog, and it was so amusing I just had to go and check my own stats. I haven't been around for very long, so this is going to be a short list, but hopefully... well, at the very least it'll be an interesting one.

movies about college professors "1990 2008"
Well, I did start this blog for a college class, under the direction of a professor. It's conceivable that I'll also write about a movie about college professors at some point, although this person's time period is somewhat later than my usual cuppa tea.

lawyers should never marry other lawyers

groping clip

"lawyers should never marry other lawyers"
Win! Still!

gaslight anthem
Not quite, but: Hee. I have a minor obsession with this band. Classic movie star references, Central Jersey shout-outs -- what more could I ask for?

Oh, Google. You know me so well.