J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Posts Tagged ‘Just Okay’

Meet Me In Saint Louis

Posted by J on December 12, 2007

How’s this for surreal? While singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland holds two crazed-looking toy monkeys and croons to her kid sister, Tootie. This is the same Tootie who proudly announces that she’s been burying her animal toys in the local cemetery, who cross-dresses during an extended Halloween scene, and who gets injured while trying to throw a fake body in front of trolley (leading one of her sisters to announce, “My, you could have killed somebody!”).

Well, okay. It’s not that Meet Me in Saint Louis is deliberately bizarre, like the nightmare sequences in Oklahoma and Singin’ in the Rain. It’s just that from the vantage point of sixty years later, it’s weird. The lone plot point, in a movie set in St. Louis circa 1903, centers on a father’s complete disconnect with his family. They don’t seem to communicate with him, and he doesn’t communicate with them. He, for example, doesn’t know that one of his daughters is being pursued by a young man, in a noteworthy scene where that young man calls long-distance during dinner. His family also doesn’t know ahead of time that the father has taken a cushy lawyer job in New York City. They don’t want to move, Judy Garland doesn’t want to move due to a love interest, and that’s the entire story.

It seems that just when the family looks disconnected, they start singing songs, which make their problems go away. That works well in the world of musicals, but one can see quickly why this syrupy genre faded away: it was too hoaky for a culture knocking at the door of southeast Asian countries and the attendant, all-too-real cultural and political problems with barging in through that door. Meet Me in Saint Louis is too hokey for today’s world too, though all the cutesiness of musical performances is here, ready to be appreciated for their own sake.

Entertainment: 5
Intelligence: 0
Morality: 6 (nothing bad, but you wouldn’t want to emulate anybody in the movie either)

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Posted in Musical, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Tunes of Glory

Posted by J on December 10, 2007

Picking up where The Bridge on the River Kwai left off, Tunes of Glory tells the story of a Scottish battalion’s change-of-command in the post-WWII, post-empire era of Britain. Walled up in a scenic castle that substitutes for a barracks, the battalion’s commanding officer, Colonel Jock Sinclair, is being be replaced as C.O. by Colonel Basil Barrow. This creates a major problem, because Sinclair is well-loved by his men and too interested in being C.O. to let Barrow take over. The Oxford-educated Barrow, heightening the problem, is too anxious to take over; as the son and grandson of former C.O.’s of the battalion, he is steeped in its traditions of formal dance and bagpipe-playing and eager to set them right. What is worse, being dedicated to the idea of commanding this battalion, Barrow alienates his men with his ill-temper and stricter regulations. In short, this is a simple story of a clash of authority, tied to the themes of disillusion and despair so intricate to twentieth-century stories.

Now the power struggle between Sinclair and Barrow is the central and only propeller that moves the plot forward. Not that this is all bad, since the movie is well shot, well acted, and well written. Barrow represents the upper-half of British society, while Sinclair, a whiskey-drinking commoner, represents the lower-half. Both men have complicated relationships to military tradition and public virtue, but their particular loyalties come under great pressure when one of them does something he should not, while the other has to make a key decision about the fate of his rival. The two men, of course, do share one thing in common: both are former battlefield veterans. In fact, Barrow seems to come straight from the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai, his P.O.W. experience possibly shaping his paranoia and quick-tempered ways.

Tunes of Glory is one of the few peacetime dramas about military life that doesn’t involve flashbacks on past battlefield action or a military trial. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of monologue and dialogue in this movie, which amounts to too much pontificating on the story’s thematic concerns for a contemporary American audience. We write that last sentence, not as harsh commentary on such an audience, but as members of that kind of audience. British class divisions and military traditions aren’t so terribly interesting as to be engaging and moving when placed in a strung-out drama. Mid-twentieth century British colonels may have been great men, but their downward falls are nowhere near as tragic as, say, Agamemnon or King Lear. What’s more, while the choice made at the end of Tunes of Glory is quite sad, the motivations aren’t all that clear. So we want a script revision, while keeping the same actors and nice-looking sets.

Entertainment: 3
Intelligence: 6.5
Morality: 7 (nothing bad in here)

Posted in Period Drama, Poignant but Boring | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Walk the Line

Posted by J on November 26, 2007

Walk the Line is never sure if it’s a morality tale or a rockstar celebration. On the one hand, it praises a mass-marketed icon’s rise to fame and iconographic status. On the other, Johnny Cash’s story keeps wanting to veer toward Christian repentance and redemption. He does not exactly find that repentance and redemption here, unless June Carter is an able substitute for Christ. Since she is not, we wonder what lessons this movie actually teaches.

Yes, we learned, celebrities tend to be pampered delinquents. In Cash’s case, drugs, booze, women, and money come all too easy to him. Unfortunately in Walk the Line, Johnny’s fall into licentiousness goes on and on and on. There is nothing else but this fall, for almost two hours of this movie, except the hope that he might be saved by June Carter.

We also learned that being a rockstar is sexy. This movie is a de facto musical, since all of Johnny’s songs are used to augment or comment upon the plot in key moments. And so we see Johnny and June up on stage for what seems like a quarter of the movie. And they look real cute together, even while married to other people.

This was our problem with Walk the Line. While we appreciate the plot arc that leads to Johnny and June’s marriage after which everyone lives happily ever after, the movie throws away opportunities to deride Johnny and June for their three divorces and extra-marital activities. In fact, just the opposite. In several scenes, they are married to other people, but the movie-language makes clear that these two people always have been Meant To Be. In early scenes we almost want them to quit their spouses and fall in love. Then, in a later scene, we encounter a puritanical witch in a corner drugstore, who tells June that she has committed an abomination by twice divorcing, because “marriage is for life.” Here, June is supposed to be the sympathetic character, but this lady has a point. June and especially Johnny have alienated their families by living somewhat decadent lifestyles, from which ensues divorces and wrecked relationships. It is therefore difficult to praise their final marriage when we were supposed to want it to happen when it should not have even been considered.

A more mature screenplay would’ve realized that–gee whiz–Johnny and June’s early flirtations are not just dumb but immoral. June does recognize this to a degree, but yet she keeps touring with Johnny, smiling cutely on stage at his antics. In the end, it is she–and not the message at the church the two of them attend–who saves him from drugs and isolation. When Johnny asks her to marry him for the fortieth time–on-stage, embarrassingly enough–she accepts without any reason, reversing her previous adamant decisions to not marry him. The camera shows the two of them kissing, with the stagelights creating a bright aura around them. This is Johnny’s salvation, of sorts. June has offered him grace, and thereafter we see Johnny reformed and his broken relationship with his father repaired. This is not to say that Walk the Line is necessarily blasphemous; there’s enough Jesus stuff in here to lend weight to a counter-interpretation of some parts of this review. The movie just struck us, in its use of the modes and messages of conversion stories, as a bit cock-eyed.

Entertainment: 6
Intelligence: 5
Morality: see review (but not as bad as a PG-13 rating these days suggests; two bad words and Johnny pops some pills)

Posted in Musical, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Miss Potter

Posted by J on November 7, 2007

Movies like Miss Potter remind us that the American self-made man myth has expanded. It now firmly and happily includes females too. Nevermind that this movie takes place in late-Victorian England, hardly the place of modern feminist ideals. It plows ahead with the idea that Beatrix Potter can and will be an Independent Woman. Every scene constantly reaffirms how easy it is for a plucky female to get rich, and how happy she is when she gets to do what she wants.

But Miss Potter does not fully indulge in feminist ideals. The fictional Beatrix Potter relishes the idea of marriage, and the movie in fact repudiates the feminist viewpoint of one of Beatrix’s friends, who at first says that men are only good for procreation but latter reverses that statement by enthusiastically urging Beatrix to marry because that’s what women need to do. You see, moviemakers understand that women need to have their cake (Marriage) and eat it too (Independence). Thus ideology, despite its attempts, will never totally trump biology.

The story engages in another cliche when Beatrix removes from London into the rural Lake District. Here, the old city/country dichotomy flourishes. In London Beatrix is cooped up in her parent’s upstairs studio. But once she leaves London and inhabits the Lake District, she’s surrounded by the inspiring beauty of the countryside. Not surprisingly, something tragic happens in London (always a place of disease in these kinds of stories), and as Beatrix copes with that she finds redemption in the country. The message, as always: stay away from cities! This message is further augmented by the last 15 minutes of the movie, wherein Beatrix battles real estate speculators from — cue bad guy music — the city, who want to develop the country into the city. Wouldn’t that be a shame? So Beatrix uses her enormous wealth to thwart the bad guy speculators, and we are told in the end that she establishes a land preservation trust to give to farmers. How agrarianism meshes with female independence beats us, but then again, this is a movie where you just have to shut the old brain down and take the night off.

Entertainment: 5
Intelligence: 3
Morality: 6

Posted in Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Period Drama, Silly but Entertaining | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »