sábado, 25 de septiembre de 2010

Review #43: Bringing Up Baby (1938)



Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Starring: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, May Robson, Fritz Feld

Directed by: Howard Hawks

Released by: RKO Radio Pictures

Synopsis: David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a mild-mannered paleontologist beleaguered by problems. For the past four years, he has been trying to assemble the skeleton of a Brontosaurus but is missing one bone (an "intercostal clavicle"). To add to the stress, he is about to get married to a dour woman, Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) with a severe personality and must make a favorable impression upon a Mrs. Random (May Robson), a wealthy woman who is considering donating one million dollars to his museum. The day before his planned wedding, David meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) by chance on a golf course. She is a free-spirited young lady and, unknown to him at first, happens to be Mrs. Random's niece.

Review: Throughout film history there are movies that at first fail to ignite reaction from audiences, either because the concept was too ahead of its time or too surreal to comprehend, or it was simply bad. But thanks to theatrical re-releases, home video releases and word of mouth from people that gave it a chance, films once deemed as the worst of its kind quickly find an audience and are hailed as the best ever made. Bringing Up Baby is one of these films. Originally a box office flop, big enough to deem many of its actors “Box Office Poison”, now, it is labeled as one of the best screwball comedies ever made, and I agree one hundred percent with that sentiment.

I have said it before, but Cary Grant is a fantastic actor that can turn any role, be it comedic or dramatic, into a shining example of extraordinary performances. Bringing Up Baby isn't an exception. The story demands for near manic performances and Grant passes it with flying colors. He even has one of the most controversial and simply hilarious lines ever mentioned on film. I won't spoil it for you, but have to see it to believe it.

Best of all, Katharine Hepburn is able to keep up with Grant and at times even surpasses him. Hepburn is known for playing strong, highly spirited women that can stand up to any man but still be very feminine and graceful. Bringing Up Baby changes things up a bit with a character that is clearly ditzy. Always well intentioned, but ultimately screwing things up with her good intentions. Still, Hepburn evokes a strong presence and is far from the stereotypical dumb broad. She is physical and outgoing in the way she sees life, and we can't help but be fascinated by it.

Integral to the plot is Baby, a real leopard that drives the entire story. Surprising for the era, the leopard interacts directly with the actors and while the potential for danger is there, the actors do very well. In fact, you can even tell who is comfortable having a leopard around (pssst....it's Katharine Hepburn!) and who is secretly afraid (hint hint...he wears a pink bathrobe later on!). But regardless, the leopard creates a lot of comedic scenes and is easily one of the most memorable characters in the movie.

Another element that makes Bringing Up Baby a classic of comedy is the writing. In many ways the film was ahead of it time in how dialog and character interaction is written. Nearly everything that comes out of the character's mouth is comedy gold, fueled even further by dynamic delivery. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong in nearly every scene and it's all a wonder to witness thanks to the energy of its actors, something very important when creating a comedy like Bringing Up Baby. The pacing is excellent, it never drags nor does it all go by too fast.

Normally, I would be talking about the film's flaws, be it major or tiny in this section of the review. But looking back, there is very little to hate or complain about Bringing Up Baby. The only real complain I can muster is that it may feel too episodic for some. Each scene is an event on its own that ties to the main narrative. While many movies do this, some fans are not appreciative of this story concept. Even then, the film handles this very well and it shouldn't be too big of a distraction.

In the past, I have said that it gets hard to rate a comedy film since humor is subjective, and what may be considered funny by some might not be for someone else. But Bringing Up Baby is excellent in its writing, pacing and characters I can't give it a low rating. It's unfortunate that the film didn't find an audience when it was released decades ago. Time, however, was kind to this film, allowing fans to discover its maddening brilliance. Cary Grant fans, Katharine Hepburn fans or even leopard enthusiasts shouldn't miss this film.

Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5



Review #42: My Fair Lady (1964)



My Fair Lady (1964)

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

Directed by: George Cukor

Released by: Warner Bros.

Synopsis: Eliza Dolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is a poor, Cockney flower girl whose unique charms grab the attention of Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison), a master of phonetics who is challenged to use his smarts to turn the dirty flower girl into a woman of grace and beauty. Could a meaningful romance come out of this odd pair?

Review: Before I review the movie, I want to talk about one of the elements that made it very popular: the casting. You see, the role of Eliza Dolittle was originally played by Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, Sound of Music) in the theater musical version of the story. When it came time to do the film version executives preferred Audrey Hepburn over Andrews simply because she wasn't that well known and Hepburn was a far bigger name than her. This sparked some controversy, with many stories saying that Hepburn was too afraid to decline the role and that many felt Andrews deserved the role. It didn't help that in 1965, Julie Andrews won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Mary Poppins. Fans to this day still debate over who should have played Eliza.

But at the end of the day, what matters is the quality of the film, and lucky for us the film delivers it in spades.

Since I began this review talking about the controversial casting decision, let's analyze Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle for a second. In my honest opinion, while she doesn't have the vocal presence Julie Andrews had she is impeccable in the role. At times she is nearly unrecognizable thanks to a near perfect deliverance of uncultured Cockney and over the top mannerisms. It can at times be jarring since by this point we have seen Audrey Hepburn playing lovely, sophisticated women, with Breakfast at Tiffany's being one of her most broader roles prior to My Fair Lady. But eventually, she becomes the fascinating woman we all have come to love. Audrey Hepburn had some very big shoes to fill and pulls off the feat rather wonderfully.

Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins is fantastic, but that's to be expected since he had been playing the character for years before the decision to make a film version was made. Higgins is what I like to call the “jerk you love to hate”. He is arrogant, pompous and cares more about his ego being fed than the well being of Eliza Dolittle. And yet, we still feel for him when he eventually realizes that he has turned Eliza into a better person than he will ever be, and he begins to feel bad for it. Higgins is charismatic, and the man playing him is incredible to say the least.

The rest of the supporting cast does well in their respective roles, although they get somewhat shadowed by the presence of two great leads. Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Dolittle, Eliza's father, stands out the most, and is memorable in the same manner as Higgins: he is a lovable bum that cares more about money than being an honest working man. He even sings a couple of songs about it!

Speaking of which, the music, composed by Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner, is simply solid. Now, for many some of these songs are legendary and they have been referenced more than once in other forms of media. But to me, they don't leave that deep of an impression. In fact, at times they feel rather superfluous to the narrative, mainly Mr. Dolittle's two songs. That's not to say that I don't like the music, I truly do. It's just that in comparison to some of the musicals released before and around the time of this film's release My Fair Lady lacks that extra “oomph” the best musicals are known for.

The costume design is stunning to say the least. Everything from Eliza's rags to her royal gowns and the suits of the male characters they invoke a feeling of fancy and fantasy that nearly rivals Gone with the Wind. I also enjoyed how the film blurs the line between movie and stage play with cinematography that is grand in scale, yet is very intimate in how a play would be. In other words, we get detailed shots of streets, alleys and buildings, but some of the indoor scenes feel like they were ripped right out of the Broadway stage. I don't know why, but I enjoy it a lot.

My one gripe doesn't directly lie in the film, but rather in how people perceive it. My Fair Lady has been labeled as one of the best romance stories ever told. While I am not one to argue how a movie should be perceived, My Fair Lady is not really a romance, it's a story about self transformation and how we can change the lives of other by just being yourself. It is inspirational in a way, and at times we do see more to Higgin's relationship with Eliza. But in the end, I don't see it as strictly a romance story.

Despite my actual thoughts on the musical score and its romantic themes, My Fair Lady features a wonderful story about learning to discover who you are, all splendidly told through fun musical members, enjoyable performances and captivating costume design.

Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5



viernes, 24 de septiembre de 2010

Review Schedule


In an effort to keep this blog updated, here is a brief review schedule for the rest of September.

- My Fair Lady
- Bringing Up Lady
- The Seven Year Itch
- The Court Jester
- Desk Set
- An Affair to Remember
- Love in the Afternoon
- Sabrina

Look forward to them!



An apology and return to form


Hey guys, it's been a while since I posted something here, but I will change that.

First off, I want to apologize for such a long hiatus. I've been very busy as of late, dealing with school and some physical issues (which thank goodness it's been dealt with). On top of this the fall gaming season is upon us, which means I get to play and review a lot of big games, limiting my time even further.

Finally, if you guys allow me to be honest for a second, I wish for more user input and comments. I want to know if you agree or disagree with me about these great films and maybe even spark some discussion. At times it feels like I am talking to an empty room so again, I will really appreciate comments, feedbacks, opinions, discussions, ANYTHING that will inspire me to keep reviewing movies.

On that note I AM planning a big return for next month. In honor of Halloween, I will be reviewing classic horror films and more! I will try to make this a reality so please stick around!

Thanks for your incredible patience and I promise things will get better.