Sunday, January 22, 2012

HOWARD HAWKS DOUBLE BILL: Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby is our second movie in this Howard Hawks double bill. An immensely enjoyable screwball comedy, it just goes to show what a versatile and talented director Howard Hawks was. Filling his oeuvre with so many classics, from the 1932 Scarface to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring the lovely Marylin Monroe and Jane Russell. Now we go from Rio Bravo, made in the late 1950's to one of his earlier efforts. While both movies are now considered masterpieces, unlike Rio Bravo, Bringing Up Baby was a commercial failure. 


In Bringing Up Baby, we follow David Huxley (Cary Grant) who has been trying to get hold of the last bone for his Brontosaurus skeleton which he's been trying to assemble for the last four years. He is about to marry Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), a stern, boring woman who won't even let their honeymoon get in the way of David's work and his attempt to impress a Mrs. Random (May Robson) who has intentions of donating a million dollars to the museum he works for. On that same day David meets Susan Vance. From the get-go things go wrong, she putts his ball on the golf-course, then proceeds to drive away in his car instead of her own. It is obvious that while she's a stunning beauty, she's also a terrible klutz who not only gets herself into trouble but all of those around her. Misunderstanding Davids profession, she practically forces him to help her take care "Baby", a leopard that she's supposed to give to her aunt. They go to her house in Connecticut and as you might expect, all sorts of misunderstandings and mishaps occur, causing the flaky Susan to fall in love with the awkward David.


Boy, could I ever have a wrong perception of actors. Because of their huge star-quality and dignified status, I always assumed that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant were big serious actors. I'd never seen a movie with either of them in before and the image I had of them was so wrong! I expected Cary Grant to be like Clark Gable, or more precisely, Rhett Butler. And because Katherine Hepburn is always talked about in terms of outspokenness, strong character and her roles as powerful, sophisticated women, I assumed a certain infallibility and coldness. But both we're so charming, silly and loveable in this movie. Immediately I took to the characters. The stumbling, awkward David reminded me very much of Ross in Friends, another geeky paleontologist who's unassuming charms have a real effect on the women around them. And to stick with the Friends comparisons, Susan is not unlike Phoebe. Both are a bit crazy, silly, get into weird situations but always seem to see the fun of it and their enthusiasm is infectious. It's interesting to think of this movie as a look into how things might have been if Ross and Phoebe had gotten together.


Bringing Up Baby is a movie full of absolutely hilarious scenes, there's not many movies I've laughed out loud at more than this one. Nearly every shot lends itself to another joke. It's full of physical, visual and verbal comedy, lending itself to a very iconic scene where most likely for the first time the word "gay" is used in the way it is used today. The performances are excellent. Grant and Hepburn deliver their lines with such crispness and their acting is so vivid you nearly forget you're watching this movie in black and white. Of course I wouldn't want to see it in colour, the fact that it is in black and white not only transports you back into time but makes it a visually stunning movie. Bringing Up Baby is a must-see for anyone who likes a romantic comedy, slapstick or just likes a laugh really. I don't know why it was such a box-office failure in the first place, but I think it's fifteenth place in the American Film Institutes list of the hundred funniest films of all time is more than deserved. Make sure you see it!





Wednesday, January 18, 2012

HOWARD HAWKS DOUBLE BILL: Rio Bravo


In the Texas town of Rio Bravo, Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) manages to capture Joe Burdett, who shot an innocent bystander, with the help of his deputy Sheriff, Dude (Dean Martin). They keep him in the towns jail, where he's watched over by Chance's other deputy Sheriff, Stumpy (Walter Brennan). One of Chance's friends arrives in town, together with supplies and a not-so-eager young gunslinger, Colorado (Ricky Nelson). He brings the news that the town is surrounded by ranger Nathan Burdetts' men, preventing Chance from being able to take Joe to Presidio where he will be sentenced. Meanwhile, a beautiful young woman arrives in Rio Bravo by the name of Feathers (Angie Dickinson), who appears to be a card-cheat.

Rio Bravo has a very classic "western" feel about it. There's the dusty, little town of Rio Bravo filled with gamblers, drunks and beautiful women. There's the Sheriff, a man who rules the town with a quiet but demanding presence, and his two deputies. One needs help getting off the bottle after a girl left him and the other limping, old but still up for a good fight. The story at times is hard to follow. So many characters are involved I sometimes lost track, but I think what's so good about a movie like this is that you don't need to know exactly what is going on to understand the story. It's a pleasure just to watch the characters interact and build their relationships, to take in the atmosphere of the place and get drawn into their little world.


 Rio Bravo does this very well. It's slowly paced, but never gets boring because there's just so much to see in between the action. I think what really draws you in are the performances. I wasn't really sure I'd like John Wayne. I'd seen him on the Dean Martin show and found him a bit preachy and old-fashioned, but he makes such an interesting character of Chance. Even though he is the man in charge, he's never in your face about it, but instead lingers in the background, observing what his pals and what his enemies are up to. Of course, when the need arrives, he steps up and performs his duties, but he lets his deputies share the lime-light. What really surprised me was the slowly unfolding romance between Chance and Feathers. I didn't really expect a romance to be part of the story, and if there was it would be between her and Dude. There's a big age difference between the two characters, but I found their interactions very sweet and touching. At times Chance is stubborn and stand-offish, but when he is alone with the girl there's a subtle change in his attitude and behavior. He seems kinder around her.


Feathers is a great character too. She seems tough and hardened by her criminal past, or at least her previous association with a famous card-cheat, but she's not afraid to open up and show her true feelings. At times she cries, frustrated by Chance's inability to tell her how he feels, but she never seems like a weak female character. At any point during the film you get the feeling that if the mood takes her, she could take on each and every one of the men in town.

Then there are Chance's deputies, Dude, Stumpy and eventually Colorado. All great characters. Dude, with his alcohol problems, doesn't seem so different from Dean Martin, but I never really though of him during the movie other than Dude. Once one of the best gunslingers, he is a bit of loser now, but in the duration of the story he has some kick-ass moments, showing he still has the ability to be what he used to be. Stumpy is some great comic relief, who's desperate to prove he still has a use beyond being the one who guards and takes care of the prisoners. He's old and wants to do too much and his enthusiasm and grouchiness leads to some funny scenes. He never turns into an unbelievable cartoon character though. Stumpy comes off as a pretty cool old dude. And then there's Colorado, the newest addition to Chance's team. He's such a good shot he never feels the need to show off.


Of course, when you have a movie that has Dean Martin and then teen-idol Ricky Nelson in it, you're gonna have to have some songs. This leads to probably my favorite scene in the movie. They're all sitting around in the jail when Dude breaks into the song "My Rifle, My Pony and Me". Then him and Colorado sing "Get Along Home, Cindy", where even Stumpy joins in. Chance lingers in the background, obviously enjoying this sight of camaraderie between his deputies. Another noteworthy piece of music is ""El Deg├╝ello" (the Cutthroat song), the movies hauntingly beautiful theme. This musical scene shows exactly what is so good about the movie. If you don't think you like westerns (like I did), give Rio Bravo a go. Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo is a real classic western. It's cliche enough to be easy to get into, but it has some really enjoyable scenes, awesome action and wonderful characters.






Sunday, January 15, 2012

AXE-WIELDING MANIACS: Point Pleasant


I started watching Point Pleasant after it was already cancelled, being shown it by someone who had the show on DVD. Of course you know you're set up for disappointment trying out a show you know was doomed from the start, but the premise seemed worth it. FOX only aired the first eight of the thirteen episodes made, abandoning the show without giving the viewers a decent ending. On the boxset though, and with current reruns, you can watch the remaining episodes as well, giving light to a quite surprising ending.

Point Pleasant starts when Christina washes up on shore after a heavy storm. She ends up staying at one of Point Pleasant families' house, trying to find out who she is and what happened to her mother, who grew up in the town. Slowly the plot unfolds as Christina is troubled by her strengthening powers which seem to point to her evil destiny and she struggles to decide between her fate and her wish to be good. Her presence has a disturbing effect on the people around her, turning the quiet, idyllic coastal town into a hub of lies, deceit and lust.


While the show has a very heavy religious theme, it is more like a Sunset Beach than Seventh Heaven.What drew me in was it's dark, Gothic feel and sense of pending doom combined with the back-stabbing, cheating, secretive people of Point Pleasant. I liked that it was exactly those awful qualities humanity possesses that taunted with Christina's inborn evil, teasing and drawing it out. While a show with such a theme could so easily come across as preachy and an advertisement for being a goody-two-shoes, it never seems to tell you "Hey, look at these people, they're despicable and they're exactly what you should avoid to be." It glamorizes the darker side of being human and giving in to your worst qualities just like a soap would do, making Point Pleasant not only edge-of-your-seat material, but also highly entertaining.

It's said that just that, the ridiculous character relations where what made the audience dwindle. But I don't see why, when most of them will have been drawn to it because of it's connections with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tru Calling. It was co-created by Marti Noxon, who wrote some of the more soap-opera like BtVS episodes, so I would have thought that that should not have been a problem. It's a shame the show got cancelled because instead of rushing to an ending it had potential to become something really interesting. I would have liked to have seen where they could take it, either to see what happens after Christina's decision, or to give it some more time before she had to make a choice.


(Does this image remind you of an iconic cancelled T.V. Show? No, me neither.. Up next week: Twin Peaks!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

AXE-WIELDING MANIACS: Popular

Sometimes you come across a T.V. show that really grabs your attention. It makes you think, feel, laugh, care about the characters. But so often these great shows don't get the chance they deserve. For one reason or another they get cancelled after just one or if they're lucky, two seasons. A lot of these programs have the potential to become, or already are, something really special and exciting. The T.V. world today is impatient and wants an instant smash-hit. There's no time to let an audience build or pride in producing creative, left-field entertainment that, if given a chance, could acquire a cult-status with a steady following of loyal fans.
I watch Lucifers dreambox quite a lot, but instead of feeling like I was numbing my brain with mindless garbage, some of these shows gave me a real sense of enjoyment. Over the next few weeks in "Axe-wielding Maniacs" I'll be talking about some of my favorite prematurely cancelled shows, starting of with Glee's predecessor, Popular.


Popular: Created by Gina Matthews and Glee's co-creator Ryan Murphy, Popular focuses on life in high-school. The two main characters, Brooke and Sam, are from different "groups". Brooke is popular, the schools sweetheart and prom-queen, while Sam, an aspiring journalist, tries her hardest to be different. When their single parents fall in love and get married, they are forced to live under the same roof and end up growing close and even become good friends. The other members of their stereotypical cliques also start of as polar opposites. Brooke, head-cheerleader of the Glamazons, is joined by bitchy, manipulative Nicole who aids Brooke in her popularity, while also being massively jealous, the Southern Mary Cherry, slightly unhinged daughter of a rich business woman who can get anything done with her money and the hair-twirling Latina Poppy Fresh. On the other side of the divide are Harrison John, he used to be friends with Brooke and still has a crush on her, but is now Sams partner in crime, Carmen Ferrara, who wants nothing more than to be popular and even ends up joining the Glamazons, despite her friends' dissaproval, and animal rights activist Lilly Esposito, who rejects the idea that popularity should be the main goal in life.


 You can tell Popular was co-created by the same person involved in Glee. It tackles very similar issues such as the desperate wish for peer approval and also the fall of a prom-queens status, issues with being gay and being accepted for who you are, striving for your own goals no matter what. It even has a near identical story-arc involving three almost indistinguishable characters. Brooke McQueen/Quinn Fabray, the blond prom queen and captain of the cheer-leading team who used to have eating-issues, used to date the schools popular, but friendly quarterback Josh Ford/Finn Hudson. Josh Ford/Finn Hudson tires of his girlfriends need to be the best and falls in love with the outsider Carmen Ferrara/Rachel Berry, a very talented girl but not without her own body hang-ups and insecurities, thinking that her boyfriend still prefers his more "beautiful" ex over them.

But while Glee seems very much stuck in a push-and-pull of a parody and not offending it's millions of fans who seem to actually want the thing they started out making fun of, Popular became more and more a commentary on the ridiculous image those teenage drama/comedy shows portray of life in high-school. It shows the harshness of being a teenager by overemphasizing the silly problems they come across in the usual programs aimed at teens with their cartoonish characters and ridiculous plotlines offset by some real painful situations and more realistic insecurities.


I enjoy watching Glee, but after having known Popular first, I can't help but wish they'd given that the time and effort that has gone into promoting it's musical successor, just to see where they could have taken it.