Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Star Wars (1977)


Academy Awards, USA 1978

Winner
Oscar
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
John Barry
Norman Reynolds
Leslie Dilley
Roger Christian
Best Costume Design
John Mollo
Best Sound
Don MacDougall
Ray West
Bob Minkler
Derek Ball
Derek Ball was not present at the awards ceremony.
Best Film Editing
Paul Hirsch
Marcia Lucas
Richard Chew
Best Effects, Visual Effects
John Stears
John Dykstra
Richard Edlund
Grant McCune
Robert Blalack
Best Music, Original Score
John Williams
Winner
Special Achievement Award
Ben Burtt (as Benjamin Burtt Jr.)
For sound effects. (For the creation of the alien, creature and robot voices.)
Nominee
Oscar
Best Picture
Gary Kurtz
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Alec Guinness
Best Director
George Lucas
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
George Lucas

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by George Lucas
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Harmy's Despecialized Edition)

George Lucas updates old Saturday matinee serials with slick special effects and an epic, galaxy-spanning story to create one of the most influential, and successful, films of all time. His hero is Luke Skywalker, a bored teenager on a remote desert planet, who reluctantly joins a rebellion against the evil Empire in possession of a weapon capable of destroying planets. He is joined by a pair of wisecracking robots who sound a lot like Laurel and Hardy, an aging Jedi knight with mystical powers and a hot shot pilot with a fast spaceship to get them around. First, they have to rescue a princess from the hands of Darth Vader, a towering, sinister figure who is the ultimate villain. Lucas populates his story with an imaginative variety of alien creatures, some of whom are major characters despite speaking no recognizable language. The soundtrack consists of assorted synthesized sounds, chatter, and bleeps, with a soaring score by John Williams. Incredibly, Lucas has disowned the original version in favor of a souped-up, CGI-ridden "special" edition which is anything but special. Luckily, you can still see the original version if you look hard enough, and that is the only way to see the film.

Top Hat (1935)

 

 Academy Awards, USA 1936

Nominee
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Art Direction
Carroll Clark
Van Nest Polglase
Best Dance Direction
Hermes Pan
For "Piccolino" and "Top Hat".
Best Music, Original Song
Irving Berlin
For the song "Cheek to Cheek".

RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Mark Sandrich
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Fred Astaire is a dancer (what else) in London to star in the new show of his friend Edward Everett Horton. His late night tap dancing in the hotel wakes up downstairs neighbor Ginger Rogers. He falls in love with her at first sight and follows her around London to no avail. He meets her again in Venice and she finally admits she loves him too. However, she mistakenly believes he is married to her friend, who unwittingly encourages the romance. The thoroughly confused Ginger instead marries her Italian costume designer. Fred eventually sets it all straight, luckily for everyone the marriage was fake, and they sail off in a fake Hollywood Gondola into the fake Venice sunset. Barely tolerable Astaire/Rogers vehicle at least has some funny moments involving the mistaken identity, but otherwise fails to meet its greatly exaggerated reputation.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Beau Geste (1939)

  

Academy Awards, USA 1940

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Brian Donlevy
Best Art Direction
Hans Dreier
Robert Odell

Paramount Pictures
Directed by William A. Wellman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

A brief opening scene takes place at a desert fort where dead men have been propped up to fool the attacking Arabs. It works, but when reinforcements arrive they are confused by the scene. We then flashback to the childhoods of three brothers who were at the fort. They yearn for adventure in the French Foreign Legion, which continues into their young adult years. The household is threatened with bankruptcy by their absent father, forcing their overprotective mother to consider selling the family diamond. One of the brothers steals it then runs away to join the Legion, quickly followed by the other brothers. The story comes full circle and we witness the events that took place at the beginning, only this time are privy to details not earlier known. It's a bit of a gimmick but for the most part works. The three lead actors are a little old for their characters (Cooper's character is in his early 20s but Cooper was 38 years old), but the supporting character actors are superb: J. Carrol Naish as a thief and especially Brian Donlevy as the brutal Sergeant who commands the fort.

The General Died at Dawn (1936)

 

 Academy Awards, USA 1937

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Akim Tamiroff
Best Cinematography
Victor Milner
Best Music, Score
Boris Morros
Score by Werner Janssen.

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Lewis Milestone
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

Gary Cooper is an American hired by Chinese rebels who want to overthrow their brutal warlord but lack the necessary guns. They send him to the big city of Shanghai to make a deal at a shady hotel. Along the way, he falls in love with the daughter of a man working for the warlord. When he realizes it, they have a big falling out in the hotel, but when she admits she loves him and regrets misleading him they make up. However, the warlord catches up with them and imprisons them on his ship in the harbor. They are tortured and threatened with execution, but Cooper manages to talk him out of it after the warlord is fatally shot and slowly dying. This action/adventure/drama is a mixed bag. Cooper struggles to deliver dialogue that is unnatural and poorly written. However, director Milestone experiments with split screens and other innovative techniques for the time and cinematographer Victor Milner provides plenty of shadow and atmosphere, particularly in the final scenes on the boat.

Peter Ibbetson (1935)


Academy Awards, USA 1936

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Score
Irvin Talbot (head of departmment)
Score by Ernst Toch.

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Henry Hathaway
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

A boy's idyllic childhood in a mansion outside of Paris comes to an end when his mother dies. He is adopted by an uncle and brought to England, leaving behind a childhood sweetheart. As a young adult, he is an architect sent to a country estate to build a horse stable. He falls in love with the married woman who is directing the job, and she with him, little realizing they are the same childhood sweethearts in the opening scenes. Her jealous husband confronts him with a gun but he kills him first and is sentenced to life in prison. Separated from his sweetheart, they are able to meet each other in their dreams, which they share. This goes on for a few decades until she dies. However, she is able to reassure him in another dream that she is waiting for him in heaven. Dreamy romance that gets more and more implausible until an ending that just makes you shake your head and wonder what they were thinking.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Design for Living (1933)

 
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Universal)

Commercial artist Miriam Hopkins falls in love with two men she meets on a train: artist Gary Cooper and playwright Fredric March. They live together in a rundown Paris garret struggling to make ends meet. She can't decide between the two, so decides to move in as a "friend" and help them with their careers. March finally gets a hit play and goes to London, leaving her alone with Cooper to resume their relationship. When he returns after a few months, Cooper leaves for an exhibition and she starts anew with March. They all have a big falling out. Years pass and Miriam marries her boss for his money. Cooper and March show up at one of their big parties and it all starts over again. Silly situational comedy with everyone other than Hopkins overacting. The pre-code sexual references are a bit startling, but still tame by today's standards.

The Emperor's New Groove (2000)


Academy Awards, USA 2001

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Original Song
Sting (composer/lyricist)
Dave Hartley (composer)
For the song "My Funny Friend and Me".

Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Mark Dindal
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

A spoiled teenage Incan king is turned into a llama by a recently fired assistant. He ends up at the home of a peasant that he had planned to demolish in order to build his own personal vacation getaway. The king promises to save his neighborhood if the peasant takes him back to the palace, and they set out together for the long trek. They overcome many obstacles, eventually ending up at a diner where they meet the assistant that tried to poison him and fight to turn him back into a human. David Spade as the Incan king Kuzco is almost as irritating as his character. The irreverent asides and breaking of the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience is cumbersome and distracting. John Goodman as the good-natured peasant is a little more tolerable. Still, this is a lesser Disney work which is already beginning to age.

The Gay Divorcee (1934)


Academy Awards, USA 1935

Won
Oscar
Best Music, Original Song
Con Conrad (music)
Herb Magidson (lyrics)
For the song "The Continental".
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Art Direction
Van Nest Polglase
Carroll Clark
Best Sound, Recording
Carl Dreher (sound director)
Best Music, Score
Max Steiner (head of department)

RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Mark Sandrich
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Ginger Rogers travels to England with her domineering aunt to get a quick divorce from her absentee husband. They hire incompetent lawyer Edward Everett Horton to stage a tryst in a hotel room with a hired Italian lover. Meanwhile, Fred Astaire falls in love with her at first sight when she steps off the boat and searches in vain for her all over London. By coincidence, he is friends with lawyer Horton, and goes with him to the seaside hotel where the arranged lover is to meet Rogers. Instead, Fred and Ginger dance the night away to "Night and Day" by Cole Porter and "The Continental" in the big finale. Featherlight romantic comedy typical of the time period.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Last Days (1998)


Academy Awards, USA 1999

Won
Oscar
Best Documentary, Features
James Moll
Ken Lipper

October Films
Directed by James Moll
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, USA Home Entertainment)

Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust recount their experiences during the final months of WWII. They describe in vivid detail how their families were torn apart and sent to concentration camps in Poland. Old documentary footage is also incorporated. Later, they travel in modern times to their old home towns in Hungary and the concentration camps. An incredibly moving and emotional film, with some of the most horrifying imagery I can remember from the concentration camps. Executive producer Steven Spielberg states in the introduction that he considers his work with the Shoah Foundation the most important of his life.

That Darn Cat! (1965)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Robert Stevenson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Disney)

Teen Hayley Mills finds a wristwatch around her cat's neck, and concludes it must belong to a bank teller who was recently kidnapped. She talks FBI agent Dean Jones into believing her and he convinces his superior. Several agents are assigned to tail the cat on his nightly rounds in the hopes he will lead them to the kidnappers. After a few false starts, he does exactly that. Absurd comedy, the last Hayley did for Disney, filled with familiar character faces, including Dorothy Provine, Roddy McDowall (in one of his worst overacting performances), Neville Brand, Frank Gorshin and even Elsa Lanchester as a nosy neighbor. Easy to digest but ultimately forgettable.