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Best Movies by Farr
  • June 22, 2009

    Funny Ha Ha

    by John Farr

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    Five Films (Faces & A Woman Under the Influence)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Five films, organized chronologically, which capture the essence of the Cassavetes legacy: Ahead of its time, “Shadows” centers on a fragile love affair which dissolves when a young white man discovers his naive girlfriend is half-black. In “Faces,” we follow the crumbling world of a middle-aged businessman (John Marley) who leaves his empty marriage and retreats to his mistress, a high-class call girl (Gena Rowlands). “Influence” concerns a loving married couple (Rowlands and Peter Falk) who nevertheless can’t fully connect. “Killing” follows a strip-club operator (Ben Gazzara) who gets in over his head with the mob, while “Opening Night” shows stage diva Rowlands blocked over a part that suggests her advancing age.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Resolutely independent filmmaker John Cassavetes is a hero to film buffs, and this indispensable collection comprises five of his groundbreaking dramas. Though the rawness and immediacy of a Cassavetes film can be unnerving to watch, we feel sympathy, even affection for many of his characters. Our hearts break for the deflowered girl in “Shadows,” the bewildered housewife in “Influence,” even the two-bit gambler in “Killing,” whose only home is his strip-club, his only family its sleazy denizens. A Cassavetes film usually makes the viewer a bit uncomfortable, like someone who’s walked into a party uninvited, one which could turn ugly any second. Such is the impact of the “truth” Cassavetes empowered his actors to find, reflecting life as a wondrously weird, often messy phenomenon. Here’s your chance to see him- and his troupe- at their very best.


    The Graduate

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.


    Happy-Go-Lucky

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    No matter what life throws her way—a stolen bike, a cutting remark—chipper, 30-year-old primary-school teacher Poppy (Hawkins) always sports a smile. Content as a single gal, Poppy enjoys the camaraderie of her best friend and flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), with whom she shares an especially intimate bond. But her encounters with sour, rageful driving instructor Scott (Marsan) challenge Poppy’s natural effervescence, especially once a kindly social worker (Samuel Roulkin) enters her life.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Sally Hawkin’s winning, unforgettable performance in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated drama, about a free-spirited working-class British gal confronting a unredeemably noxious soul, is absolutely first-rate. Ever the optimist, Poppy can’t help but try to recuperate Scott’s malignant, borderline psychotic attitude—bitter, racist, paranoid, utterly devoid of joy—and Marsan’s turn as the splenetic, tightly wound Londoner is edgy and riveting. Funny, sad, and life-affirming in equal measure.


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  • June 15, 2009

    Anchors Aweigh

    by John Farr

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    On the Town

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1949, legendary MGM producer Arthur Freed introduced dancer Gene Kelly to a young director named Stanley Donen, and the two collaborated on this musical, chronicling three sailors’ wisecracking, happy-go-lucky shore leave in New York City. They’ve got just one day to take in the world’s greatest city, and find three girls to join them on their exuberant adventure.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This exhilarating musical comedy, featuring (respectively) the fancy footwork and infectious crooning of GIs Kelly and Sinatra, perfectly captures the optimistic spirit that held sway in the post-World War II boom. Co-starring dancers Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, “On the Town” was one of the first color films shot on location in Manhattan, and remains one of the grandest, liveliest Hollywood musicals ever made.

    Watch the trailer on Reel 13.


    Singin’ in the Rain

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A tribute to and satire of the late 20′s, when Hollywood transitioned from silent films to talkies. Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a star with a future who meets talented unknown Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), and besotted, schemes to advance her prospects. Meanwhile, he must derail the career of cloying past co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a shrill femme fatale from hell. Donald O’Connor plays Cosmo, Kelly’s eternally loyal, energetic pal.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An obvious choice, but it’s hard to resist what is likely the best film musical of all time. The period music is delightful, the dancing routines sensational. Thanks to a golden Comden & Green script, this is also among the funniest musicals ever, especially with Hagen’s side-splitting performance as Lina. Must-viewing for the whole family.’


    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the backwoods of Oregon, rugged Adam (Howard Keel) marries Millie (Jane Powell), who then inherits Adam’s six rambunctious bachelor brothers. The newlyweds need to tame the brothers so they can find mates of their own. In civilizing these boys, more than half the fun is getting there.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Featuring a slew of fabulous dancers, including a young Russ Tamblyn (later Riff in “West Side Story”), the movie’s an adrenaline rush of vibrant hues and non-stop motion. Though the songs by Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer are catchy, the real attraction here is Michael Kidd’s matchless choreography. The barn-raising sequence alone is one of the outstanding sequences in all musical film. Exuberant, infectious fun.


    Funny Face

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) transforms Paris bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) into a modeling sensation. It’s all a souffle-light pretext for breathtaking sets, music and dancing.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Combine the moves of Fred Astaire, the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the talents of Director Stanley Donen with the city of Paris and a Gershwin soundtrack, and what have you got? Movie paradise. Prepare to be delighted: this 50th Anniversary edition is “Swonderful, Smarvelous!” Look for Eloise-creator Kay Thompson playing a fashion editor modeled on Diana Vreeland.


    The Pajama Game

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When her fellow workers are denied a 7.5-cent raise, pajama-factory employee Katie “Babe” Williams (Doris Day) forms a grievance committee and takes their modest wage demand to the doorstep of shop boss Sid Sorokin (John Raitt). But things grow complicated for Babe-and how!-when she falls for the handsome superintendent. Just whose side is she on?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This Technicolor smash hit began life on Broadway but made a lively, beautiful transition to film in 1957. Funny, intelligent, and stuffed frame to frame with a jumping songbook and ebullient choreography by the one and only Bob Fosse, “Game” features Day in one of her cheekiest, most adorable screen roles. Adler/Ross tunes like “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “There Once Was a Man,” and the show-stopping “Steam Heat,” featuring the remarkable Carol Haney, add punch. If all workers’ movements looked like this, we’d have a revolution on our hands!


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  • June 15, 2009

    The White Countess

    by John Farr

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    Shakespeare Wallah

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal) is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe, the Buckingham Players, trying to eke out a living performing for less-than-enthusiastic villagers in postcolonial India. When their caravan breaks down, wealthy playboy Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) steps in to help, and the sparks fly. But Sanju has already been claimed by Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey), a Bollywood actress with no intention of letting him go.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This charming early effort by the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory team, penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a gorgeous elegy to the waning of British influence in India, represented here by the growth of the Bollywood film industry. Based in part on the real-life experiences of Kendal’s own family, Ivory’s film was scored by Satyajit Ray, shot by his lensman Subrata Mitra, and impeccably played by a lively cast. Jaffrey, however, nearly steals the show with an over-the-top performance as the arrogant, jilted starlet.


    Howard’s End

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Meticulous adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End depicts transitions in the British class system in the early 20th century. It traces the evolving relationship between Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a restrained and conservative industrialist, and Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) — a poor, yet plucky younger woman.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Few filmmakers capture period detail like James Ivory. Here, Hopkins is the personification of upper-class British reserve, while Emma Thompson is radiant in an Oscar-winning performance. Vanessa Redgrave portrays Hopkins’ dying wife with poignancy, and Helena Bonham Carter is suitably fiery as Thompson’s modern sister. Literate, human drama of the first order.


    Morgan!: A Suitable Case For Treatment

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Morgan Delt (David Warner), a mentally unbalanced young artist obsessed with apes, really goes off the deep end when his beautiful, only slightly daffy spouse, Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), asks for a divorce. Determined to have her back, Morgan resorts to bizarre and desperate measures to keep her from marrying priggish art dealer Charles (Robert Stephens).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Redgrave made her film debut in this wildly inventive black comedy by Czech director Reisz. Her magnetic performance as Leonie-continually torn between her more conventional side and the unhinged part of her nature – netted her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. “Morgan!”‘s exuberant pacing and anarchic spirit make it one of the swinging sixties’ most delightfully loony cult films. Also, Warner is terrific in the lead.


    Georgy Girl

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Georgina, known as Georgy (an Oscar-nominated Lynn Redgrave), is an ugly duckling at loose ends. Her father is a manservant whose married, middle-aged employer (James Mason) wants her as his mistress. Meanwhile, her gorgeous roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) treats her carelessly, but Georgy basks in her glamour. Finally, there’s Jos (Alan Bates), Meredith’s sometime boyfriend, who beds the beauty but seems to prefer Georgy’s company. Somehow, this plump, sweet girl must make sense of her disordered life and figure out where she belongs.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Distinctive black comedy has Georgy, a free spirit with a self-image problem, surrounded by somewhat pathetic, bizarre characters: Meredith’s beauty can’t conceal the soul of a witch; Jos is a loveable, overgrown child; and Mason’s character seems like a rather lonely, leering fellow, though endowed with real affection for Georgy. Still, the film’s ambiguity is intended- and it’s a large part of its charm. A fascinating, highly original ride, with terrific performances and a vivid sense of London in the swinging sixties. Catchy title tune by The Seekers.


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