Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

Stopped in Mexico by U.S. Immigration, Georges Iscovescu hopes to get into the country by marrying a citizen. [imdb]

Nominated for 6 Oscars:
Best Picture

Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland
Best Writing, Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White

This film was a very pleasant surprise; it seems the screenplay was written by Billy Wilder, which rather explains everything: it's very well put together, with interesting characters and a story that grabbed my attention. Charles Boyer is a captivating lead and gives an excellent performance (curious why he wasn't nominated; it's his film). Olivia is also memorable, playing the role that (maybe) fit her best: the kind, naive woman.
I can't say that I support the ending, but I understand why it went down like that, and I do respect the film a lot.
My rating for the film: 8/10
And some great piece of trivia: The original script included an early scene where Charles Boyer talks to a cockroach in his room. Boyer dismissed the scene as idiotic and convinced director Mitchell Leisen to delete it; screenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were so incensed at Leisen for giving in they resolved to direct and produce their own movies from then on. [imdb]

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Big House (1930)

A convict falls in love with his new cellmate's sister, only to become embroiled in a planned break-out which is certain to have lethal consequences. [imdb]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actor: Wallace Beery
Best Writing (WINNER)
Best Sound (WINNER)

The reason I saw this film was because it was recommended to me ;) and these days I seem to be in the mood for 1930s & 40s. And, of course, because it has a couple of Oscar nominations. The point is: I can't share the enthusiasm on it, because it IS terribly dated and there are moments where it sounded too scripted and fake. The problem is in the screenplay, which fails (except for the Robert Montgomery one) in developing believable characters. Why would x, y, z have done that?! Plenty of such questions crossed my mind. :)

The ending is fine, except for defying logic a couple of times and that silly last scene. The acting is mostly OK: I dislike Wallace Beery because of his personal life, but he gives a good performance here. The star of the film is Chester Morris: his performance is memorable and he is terribly charismatic. 

My rating for the film: 6/10. I just didn't enjoy it as much, and felt too dated to reward higher.

Blossoms in the Dust (1941)

It tells the true story of Edna Gladney who takes it upon herself to help orphaned children to find homes, despite the opposition of the "good" citizens who think that illegitimate children are beneath their interest. [wiki]

Nominated for 4 Oscars:
Best Picture

Best Actress: Greer Garson
Best Cinematography, Color
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color (WINNER)

I must be the only living person who is not a Green Garson fanatic who has seen the film TWICE. :) For my other blog, of course. But I'm glad when I see them more than once, because I get to appreciate the performances more. This might just be the best Greer Garson performance I've seen so far and she is way better than the film would demand. There's a certain energy in the performance that is lovely to witness - and she also looks great in Color - this is overall a nicely shot film, with the colors being a delight.

Other than Greer, the film isn't much. It pretends to be a biopic, but, with a simple check on wikipedia, you can tell this takes so much liberties it barely has much to do with the real story. But writers did that A LOT back in the day. In many ways, it's your average 1940s drama. Something to note: I don't remember ever seeing so many black actors in a film of that era (a film with a story that doesn't specifically require black actors - so Gone with the Wind doesn't count); sure, the main roles are cliches of servants or helpers, but they're also portrayed as nicely dressed, included in a community, almost on equal ground, donating money to charity. This was 1941 after all. I'm curious if Greer's personal activism had anything to do with this or if it was all on the director.

My rating for the film: 5.5/10. For either fans of old film or Greer / Best Actress fanatics.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Suspicion (1941)

A shy young English woman marries a charming gentleman, then begins to suspect him of trying to kill her. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:
Best Picture
Best Actress: Joan Fontaine (WINNER)
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
This has to be the worst Hitchcock film I've ever seen (he's done plenty of films nobody's talking about, so I can't say it's his worst ever). But how surprising for him to craft such a bad film, especially only 1 year after the wonderful Rebecca. This film has nothing except for 1 or 2 good ideas (the glass of milk) that aren't even explored properly.

Cary Grant is dislikeable here, even beyond his character. Joan plays a VERY naive woman in an overly theatrical performance that makes for one for the most unfortunate Best Actress wins in history. The music is too much, while the ending - I was hoping for it to redeem the film - is just pure vanilla, probably forced upon Hitchcock by the studio. Let's skip it unless we have to.

My rating for the film: 4/10.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug. [imdb]

Nominated for 3 Oscars:
Best Visual Effects
Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing

I am a sucker for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and I even enjoyed the first Hobbit (at least more than the others did). But I have to admit this one was... well... not exactly uneventful. More like unimportant. I mean: hey, I could've watched it for hours and hours, because I am fascinated by this universe, but there was nothing too fascinating going on. Like a mid-season so-and-so episode of an otherwise good TV series.
And why the hell was that dragon talking? :) Not too thrilled with the visual effects either. Hope the last episode will get to be the best - and somehow justify this entire new series of films.
My rating for the film: 7/10.