As far as I’m concerned the big news this week is the opening of (500) Days of Summer, but for the blockbuster-minded it’s probably G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, one of summer’s last big openers. I suppose if something bearing a passing resemblance to a movie could be using Transformers, it was inevitable that more toys would find their way into theaters.
Yes, I know there was also some kind of cartoon series involving G.I. Joe. I plead curmudgeon status, since this occurred long after I was in the market for Saturday morning cartoons. For me, G.I. Joe was a 12-inch doll—excuse me, action figure—with “21 movable parts” (this is even pre-“Kung Fu Grip”). You could tell he was more butch than a Ken doll, because he boasted a larger bulge where his private parts should have been. I had one of these figures—mostly because I was 9 years old and everyone else my age wanted one. Finding him somewhat lacking in his own right, I quickly denuded the fellow, covered him in tinfoil and—thanks to those 21 movable parts—had a perfectly fine stop-animation robot to star in my very own 8mm spectacular. It was a simpler age.
Now, it appears that G.I. Joe isn’t a person, but part of some elite military group—complete with buxom babes in shiny rubber suits—and a convoluted plot involving defeating some villainous organization. OK, so maybe it still is a simpler age. From what I can determine, we’re in for lots of explosions, a surprisingly impressive cast (well, there’s also Channing Tatum), who are either in full paycheck mode or out to have a good time chewing the scenery, and not much plot. I’m told that fans of the original cartoon are nervous about what the film will do to sacred memories of childhood. Friday will settle the question.
Of course, if you’re not interested in G.I. Joe, the week also offers not just the splendid (500) Days of Summer, but the possibly interesting Julie and Julia and the potentially so-bad-it’s-good A Perfect Getaway. Whatever else Julie and Julia offers, it does have Meryl Streep and Amy Adams—and while Amy Adams lost a little of her luster with A Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian, their presence is enough to make me want to see it. It’s also hard to deny that Streep seems to be having an infectiously good time playing Julia Child, if the trailer is any indication.
A Perfect Getaway is another matter, with Steve Zahn in some kind of action-hero role. Someone actually thought this was a good idea. Someone, I suspect, needs a good talking to.
While we’re at it, both Tetro and The Hurt Locker are still in town. Tetro represents the only instance I can think of where a reader has taken issue with me giving a film a five-star rating based on the rating not being high enough. Sometimes you just can’t win.
And in the catch-‘em-quick category, Whatever Works and Moon will be at the Fine Arts through Thursday, and the same is true of Chéri and Summer Hours at the Carolina Asheville. Any of these would be worth making that extra effort for—with Whatever Works at the top of the list.
Not in a theater, but anyone who has the time should consider going to Pritchard Park on Saturday evening to catch Bela Lugosi in Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). This is one of those almost-a-great-movie affairs, where what works—Lugosi and the style and look of the film—works so well that you wish the rest of the movie was quite up to it. Even flawed, the movie is a brisk 61 minutes of classic horror. Check out the larger review of it in this week’s Xpress.
Grim tidings on the mainstream front are up this week with Obsessed, The Soloist, Race to Witch Mountain and Delgo. None of these exactly ignited the box office—Delgo, in fact, entered record books in the flop category—and the ones I’ve seen (I didn’t see Race to Witch Mountain) did nothing to make we want to revisit them. The best of the lot is The Soloist, and it’s nothing to write home about.
Much more interesting are a couple Columbia releases of collections dubbed Icons of Screwball Comedy. The two volumes find homes for films that would otherwise probably be considered unmarketable on the basis that stars like Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, Melvyn Douglas and Brian Aherne don’t quite have the followings necessary to make them viable commodities, but might fare pretty well as part of a screwball comedy set or two. Whether or not that’s true remains open to question, but it’s nice to see these titles find homes. Volume One consists of If Only You Could Cook (1935) with Jean Arthur and Herbert Marshall; Too Many Husbands (1940) with Arthur, Fred MacMurray and Melvyn Douglas; My Sister Eileen (1942) with Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne and Janet Blair; and She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945) with Russell and Lee Bowman. The main draw here is My Sister Eileen, though the others offer pleasant entertainment. If Only You Could Cook is perhaps best known as the film Columbia president Harry Cohn palmed off as being a “Frank Capra Production” for its British release—despite the fact that Capra wasn’t involved and hadn’t even heard of the picture. Capra was not amused.
The contents of Volume Two—Theodora Goes Wild (1936) with Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas; Together Again (1944) with Dunne and Charles Boyer; The Doctor Takes a Wife (1940) with Loretta Young and Ray Milland; and A Night to Remember (1943) with Young and Brian Aherne—are actually better than those of Volume One. Theodora Goes Wild is at least close to being a screwball comedy classic. I haven’t seen Together Again since I was about 14, but my memory of it is that it’s at least pretty good. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen The Doctor Takes a Wife, but A Night to Remember is a little gem that I wrote about a week or so ago when it showed up on TCM. While I might waffle a bit on buying Volume One, I’m definitely picking up this one.
Notable TV screenings
As usual, Turner Classic Movies is offering the best stuff. Tomorrow, for example, is a solid 24 hours of Harold Lloyd. Since they did a Lloyd-a-thon not that long ago, I won’t go into it again, but the interested should consider checking out the TCM Web site for more information.
Gilda TCM, Friday, Aug. 7, at 8 p.m.
Charles Vidor’s Gilda (1946) is famous of course for Rita Hayworth performing “Put the Blame on Mame,” but it’s also one of the great noirs—with a more-than-surprising dose of gay subtext concerning the relationship of Glenn Ford and George Macready. Indeed, it can hardly be called subtext. Neither Ford nor Macready made any secret of how they were approaching the characterization, so it was a little surprising to see Vidor once remark, “So that’s what it was. I knew those boys were up to something,” when apprised of this. That he wasn’t in on it strains credulity, since one scene in particular—where Ford reacts in a broken-hearted manner to the announcement that Macready has married before he sees that Macready has married his old flame Hayworth—doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation.
Deception TCM, Saturday, Aug. 8, at 10 p.m.
In the midst of a pretty worthwhile Bette Davis day of movies there’s Irving Rapper’s delirious Deception (1946). It’s the sort of culture vulture kitsch that could only have come from Warner Bros. in the 1940s. The lovably preposterous story finds Davis living in a New York City apartment roughly the size of an airplane hangar (and designed after Leonard Bernstein’s real apartment) seemingly on the largesse of composer boyfriend Claude Rains. Trouble arises when Davis’ war refugee cellist husband (Paul Henreid) shows up and she tries to keep her secret and prevent Rains from ruining Henreid. It’s filled with instant culture dialogue (people talk a lot of buzzword nonsense about music) and a marvelous scene with Rains reading the funny papers in bed. A critic of the time remarked that the film “is like grand opera, only the characters are thinner.”
Once Upon a Time TCM, Sunday, Aug. 9, at 6 a.m.
The start of a relatively uninspiring Cary Grant day of movies is the generally overlooked 1944 fantasy Once Upon a Time. Grant plays a down-on-his-luck theatrical producer who comes across a gold mine in the form of a little boy (Ted Donaldson) who has a dancing caterpillar. The film never shows us the Terpsichore-bent critter, which may be just as well. Make no mistake, this isn’t an especially good movie. Among other things, it gets all mawkish and soapy before its predictable climax, but it isn’t shown very often any more and is, if nothing else, an unusual Grant opus.
Love in the Afternoon TCM, Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m.
Billy Wilder offers his tribute to Ernst Lubitsch with this romantic comedy from 1957 starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier. There was much criticism at the time that Cooper was miscast as an aging playboy. Some critics even suggested that it would have been more believable had Hepburn been cast opposite Chevalier (who plays her father) rather than Cooper. But time has been rather kind to Wilder’s ersatz Lubitsch effort—not in the least because it’s one of Wilder’s least cynical works. Try it and see.