Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Apartment

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine delight in this Billy Wilder comedy on TCM today!

Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter. Baxter works at desk number 891 on floor number 19 for one of the largest insurance firms in the world. His desk sits in the middle of a giant room full of desks. Each is home to another worker just like him. C.C. Baxter often stays late, working without overtime pay, to get things done. He is a responsible, well-liked, anonymous cog in a giant insurance machine. Yet, C.C. Baxter is getting positive reviews and references for promotion from executives throughout the company. Many of the senior executives know C.C. Baxter and he is in contact with execs all over the firm.

Fred MacMurray portrays Mr. Sheldrake. He is the president of this monstrous insurance company. He wants to know why so many executives, from different divisions, are giving Baxter glowing reviews. Why are these execs pushing for Baxter's promotion? Earlier in the firm's history a similar story played out. In that case, the junior nobody was running a book-making operation and taking bets from all the other employees. What is the story with Baxter?

Shirley MacLaine plays Fran Kubelik. She is an elevator operator for the firm. Everyday dozens of employees ride her elevator to and from their offices. She is cute, personable and most witty. She avoids all the advances from every executive as they try different ploys to get her to go on a date. The fact that most of them are married doesn't seem to slow down her would-be suitors. But, so far, she seems to have avoided all entanglements.

Baxter has chosen an interesting path to success. He lends out his apartment to executives at the firm. They use his place to rendezvous with their mistress. This makes him very popular. In exchange, they give Baxter glowing performance reviews and recommendations for promotion. He is soon on the fast track to the top floor. Since he lives alone and has little company the situation seems to be perfect. But he develops a fondness for Miss Kubelik. He is now torn between pursuing the lovely and witty elevator operator and advancing his career. When the head of the company, Mr. Sheldrake, wants to use his apartment the choice becomes even more difficult.

Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote The Apartment. He was coming off the giant success of 'Some Like it Hot' (my review) and was on top in Hollywood. He teamed with his co-writer I.A.L. Diamond for this sarcastic yet warm comedy. Casting Jack Lemmon was his best decision. Lemmon can toss-out one-liners with the best. He has impeccable timing and uses subtle voice and volume changes to deliver lines at their sarcastic best. In this movie, he is a character with which the audience can relate. We want him to succeed, to find happiness and love, to move beyond his lonely existence. Shirley MacLaine is fantastic. A truly wonderful, understated performance. She portrays the woman with a tough exterior covering for her disappointment with life to perfection. Also, Fred MacMurray plays the philandering husband with a zest that is spot-on. He is a cheating wretch, but he is also charming. You can see why women would be interested even while they know it is not going to go well.

Wilder's direction, along with his script, is wonderful, as always. Wilder won 6 Oscars in his life with 3 of them coming from this film. The Apartment won Best Picture while Wilder won Best Director and for Best Screenplay. His name is littered throughout my website. He also directed 'Double Indemnity', 'Some Like it Hot', 'Witness for the Prosecution' and 'Stalag 17'. I can safely say that if you are considering watching a movie that is directed and/or written by Billy Wilder you should get it. You won't be disappointed!

Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter faces a tough choice in The Apartment. He must choose between his career and love. You, however, face a simple decision. Should I watch this move today or tomorrow?

Filmed in 1960, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Best Worst Movie

No film starts out hoping to be terrible.  But, somehow, a very large number of very bad movies have been made and, unfortunately, seen.  This intriguing documentary tells the tale of one of those horrible films.

In 1989 an Italian director named Claudio Fragasso went to Utah to film a script written by his wife Rosella Drudi.  Using an incredibly small budget, local non-professional actors and almost no effects they created 'Troll 2'.  The finished film was never released for the big-screen.  It aired a few times on cable and then attempted to fade into oblivion.  But a small group of rabid fans have, one-by-one, convinced others to see this movie.  They found the lack of acting talent, effects or continuity to be endearing.  Slowly, over a decade, these fans found others who love this terrible movie.

Best Worst Movie attempts to provide some explanation for how this phenomenon occurred.  Filmmaker Michael Stephenson takes his cameras to showings of 'Troll 2'.  Showings, not on movie screens, but instead in comedy clubs, office buildings and bars.  Showings that are sold out by fans seeing the films for the 1st, 20th or 100th time.  The documentary goes on to follow 'Troll 2's adult star George Hardy from his hometown in Alabama as he attends screenings around America.  Screenings where he is treated as a "star" with photo and autograph requests and standing ovations.

Stephenson brings a unique perspective to this documentary.  You see the director of Best Worst Movie played Joshua Waits, the young boy who is at the center of 'Troll 2', as a youngster.  He thought it was going to be his "big break" and that he would be a movie star.  Movie stardom was not to be, but Stephenson has made a compelling documentary.  This documentary is so engrossing that I have ordered a copy of 'Troll 2' for my own viewing.  It has been on many a worst-film list and I have  always avoided seeing it, but now is the time.

Even if you choose to avoid 'Troll 2' I highly recommend you enjoy this entertaining documentary.

Filmed in 2009, directed by Michael Stephenson, featuring George Hardy, Erika Anderson, Darren Ewing and Jason Steadman.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The 27th Day

I love 50's Sci-Fi.  Science Fiction has the ability to look at complex social issues without driving everyone away.  The 1950s saw major changes in both American society and international relations.  But because this movie features an alien that is attempting to trick Earthlings into ending our existence, complex issues are discussed without creating distrust nor aversion.  This film is rarely shown on cable so should purchase, rent or Netflix the DVD.

The 27th Day is a simple film telling a simple story.  An alien "beams-up" 5 people to its space craft.  These are people of different religions, incomes, genders, abilities and nationalities.  The alien gives each of these pill a set of 3 devices.  Each device, if activated, will vaporize all human beings without a certain distance of any point on Earth.  Because this film was made at the height of the cold war it features characters from behind the Iron Curtain as well as Westerners.  Each of the 5 individuals must decide, for themselves, what to do with these devices.  No one else can access them.  The film follows the paths of these five people faced with a life vs. death decision for millions.  To pressure these people the alien informs the world that they have these devices.  Soon the entire planet is on a hunt to locate these chosen five and their alien machinery.

Director William Asher worked primarily in television.  Given the opportunity to direct a small-budget film he uses a direct style that moves the film along crisply.  Screenwriter John Mantley adapted the script from his own novel.  He also worked primarily in television.  Their collaboration results in an intriguing, face-paced film of only 75 minutes.  Not only is the cold war part of the story, but The 27th Day also looks at race relations, good vs. evil and other immortal quandaries under the cover of Science Fiction.

The decision to cast Gene Barry as the lead is a sound one.  He was already well-known for an earlier Sci-Fi flick 'The War  of the Worlds' that was well-received.  He is accompanied by a little-known cast each chosen to represent a specific portion of humanity.  The cast is fine, but it is the plot and its conundrums that are of import.

Filmed in 1957, directed by William Asher, written by John Mantley, starring Gene Barry, Valerie French, George Voskovec and Arnold Moss.  For a look at some other 50s Sci-Fi you can click on these links:'Forbidden Planet', 'Panic in the Streets', 'The Thing from Another World', and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stranded:I've come from a plane that crashed on the mountain

In 1972 a plane carrying an Uruguayan rugby team crashed on its way to Chile. Most of the crew and passengers survived the crash and attempted survive. This films is a compilation of interviews with some of the survivors.

Stranded is one of the most interesting documentaries I have seen in some time. By giving us the first person perspective of that terrible crash and ordeal I felt personally involved in the struggle. This story was first told in the Piers Paul Read book 'Alive' which was then made into a 1993 theatrical release starring Ethan Hawke. This documentary shares the interviews with the survivors as they tell the story in their own words along with some excellent recreations.  It also includes some of the actual photos taken by those survivors at their camp high in the Andes as well as some news footage of their rescue and eventual confession of the horrors they endured.

Documentaries have the ability to tell a story in way that transfers emotion and situation that no drama can. This terrific and intense film gives us almost more emotion that one can take. To see people talk of the difficulty in considering cannibalism vs. starvation, life vs. death, sacrilege vs. faith is, at times, difficult to take. But the strength and openness showed by the survivors is a story that is, ultimately, life affirming. I highly recommend this outstanding film.

The writer/director Gonzalo Arijon understands the power of the narrative and allows the participants to speak for themselves. They take some of the survivors, along with their families, back to the crash site to further illustrate the event. Arijon is better known for his socialist leader's study 'Eyes Wide Open', but this is his best work.

Filmed in 2007, written and directed by Gonzalo Arijon, starring some of the survivors of the Andean plane crash.  It is in Spanish with sub-titles.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Move Over Darling

This delicious comedy is on TCM this evening. Have fun!
I know, I know. What's this? you say. A sappy Doris Day movie? Has Steve the movie guy gone soft? No, I still love 'Apocalypse Now' and think that Kirk Douglas as 'Spartacus' kicks butt. However, there is a place in my heart for silly romantic comedies. This one is a remake of the classic Cary Grant and Irene Dunne film 'My Favorite Wife'. The original is fun, but this is one instance where I find a remake more satisfying than the original.

Doris Day stars as a woman who has been stranded on a deserted island for five years. Her husband, played by the great James Garner (earlier blogs for 'The Americanization of Emily' and 'Murphy's Romance'), has her declared legally dead. Doris Day is rescued and returns home on the day of his wedding. This leads to a complex storyline as each of the parties attempts to get their own way. Polly Bergen is fantastic as Garner's new bride while Chuck Connors portrays 'Adam'. Adam was the only other person on the island with Doris Day for those five lonely years. How did Doris Day and Chuck Connors spend 5 years on an island alone? What did they do all day? And can Garner extricate himself from his new bride to return to his first love? As we know all along, Garner and Day still love each other and belong together, but obstacles abound.

As I have admitted previously, I have a "man-crush" on James Garner. He is able to carry a movie no matter the plot or script. Great smile, charisma to spare and an ability to draw in the viewers. He makes any movie worth seeing. However, in Move Over Darling there is more than just Garner. Day plays her usual chaste self with aplomb. The supporting cast here is strong. Along with Bergen and Connors, the always wonderful Thelma Ritter plays Garner's Mom while Don Knotts is corralled into being a stand-in for 'Adam' that Doris Day hires to help with Garner's jealousy.

This remake was originally intended to star Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe. I believe that Ms. Monroe is under appreciated for her comic talents, but the casting of Day and Garner makes this movie fun fun fun. Next time you're in the mood for a flashback to the "chaste" 60s pick up this film! I guess, at least sometimes, I am just an old softy.

Filmed in 1963, directed by Michael Gordon, written by Hal Kanter and Jack Sher, starring James Garner, Doris Day, Thelma Ritter, Chuck Connors and Don Knotts.