Film Log #6 – 3.2020

In an effort to curtail my cycle of binge watching (and re-watching) programs available on streaming services, I’ve made a more concerted effort to support the local video store – Vulcan Video. Their mid-week 2-for-1 deal keeps me returning fairly regularly.
With that in mind, I figure I’d log a somewhat quick rundown of the films I’ve recently experienced (because, you know, there aren’t already enough people recreationally writing about movies).

As a child, I was initially introduced to William Powell by Warner Bros. cartoons (Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes – see below).

For some reason, these caricatures resonated with me and, early on, I had made it a point to be in on the joke as well as understand why these actors were regarded as they were. William Powell’s name popped up many times in the film texts I read, but, honestly, I generally hadn’t gone out of my way to watch comedies a whole lot; even if they were classics.

However, on a recent trip to Alamo Drafthouse, they were promoting a special screening of 1936’s My Man Godfrey. The trailer looked very entertaining and the subject matter was definitely in my sweet spot.
Powell plays Godfrey, a quick-thinking, fast-talking “forgotten man” (euphemism for “homeless”) living near a bridge on the East River in Manhattan who is attempted to be picked up by a rude debutante looking for a “forgotten man” to complete her scavenger hunt.

Godfrey complies only after choosing to help a kinder debutante, Irene, instead of Irene’s insulting sister, Cornelia. Upon helping Irene win the scavenger hunt, Godfrey is asked to address the crowd. He responds with, “My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.”
The “society of really important people” being his community of “forgotten men” living in shanties.

His appearance at the scavenger hunt ends with job offer. He was hired to “buttle” for the very affluent Bullocks. The film then makes its obvious progression and I can’t help but enjoy most of it. It plays out more like a terrific theatrical performance than a cinematic achievement, and that’s understandable given its era.

When interviewed about Dr. Strangelove, William H. Macy said, “When making a comedy, if you’re not careful, the actors will start ‘being funny,’ and what any good director knows is that it’s not an actor’s job to be funny; that’s the writer’s job. The script is funny or it’s not funny. It’s the actor’s job to be truthful, and then the humor will come out.”

As I previously wrote, most comedies are concepts without a legitimate script. They start as an idea, such as, “what if these guys were ice skaters” or “on an ABA basketball team” and so forth. The project continues and eventually they have a few pages and plot points, but the hope is that they assemble a few funny people in a room, play off one another, and after a few takes, someone says something like “I love lamp” and no one during the filming is sure which ad-libbed lines are going to resonate with the audience until the film hits theaters/streaming services/cable broadcasts.

But My Man Godfrey feels and resonates like an Oscar Wilde piece. It’s critical of the affluent day-to-day lifestyle and social events on more than a superficial level. And because I’m terribly hard on films that are so entirely far-fetched and unbelievable, I’ll easily admit that this one is too. The pass that I’m giving it is based on historical significance, intelligence, criticisms of class/status, and a few other reasons.
Whenever I grow weary with contemporary films that seem as though every aspect and situation of the film is frankly unbelievable, those films compound that be feeling by coming off, in the words of Godfrey, as “empty-headed.”

You can find My Man Godfrey streaming on youtube here.
I do recommend it, but you’ll have to prepare yourself. Going directly from watching 2020 comedies to something made in 1936 will be a little jarring, but it is certainly well worth it.
Anyhow, I enjoyed it. I’ll most likely watch it again down the road.

That french line included on the above poster translates to “A formidable thriller in line of Heat.” Perhaps it’s never a good idea to include any mention of any other film on the promotional materials for a new movie because every time one resorts to conjuring up another title, they’re essentially saying that this is a “poor man’s version” of the other title.

But even that would be a stretch. I saw this film 10 years ago when it originally came out. I may have had a few drinks while watching it the first time 10 years ago or I may have been itching to see some kind of “shoot’em up” and simply forgot how dull the film is.

I like Jeremy Renner when he’s not playing scuzzy trash, tolerate Ben Affleck when he’s not playing a hopeless romantic, and look forward to a future when Jon Hamm will be able to play something other than a federal agent. Unfortunately, this film includes all of those things.

The romantic interest between Affleck and Rebecca Hall is particularly bunk. If there ever were a case of men being “allowed” to have three-dimensional characters while women are always pushed to the sidelines and simply play flat nobodies without a shred of dynamism, this would be quite the example.
That’s not to say that the men’s characters are particularly well-shaped and formed, but hell, they’re certainly more developed than the two female leads.

Yeah, I know, “it’s a bank robbery film” and arguably, to call back to Heat (one of my favorite bank robbery/caper films), the worst scenes in that film all include Val Kilmer’s love interest– Ashley Judd, and if I were to be extremely critical of that film, the scenes including De Niro’s love interest also were not good. It would, however, be a failure to not also point out that some of Heat‘s best scenes include Pacino with his love interest played by Diane Venora (pictured below).

With it being acknowledged that it can be difficult to squeeze in a meaningful love story into a robbery/caper film, how is it that The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and so many other film noirs were able to do so?
I think that’s what my film study ends up pointing out– cinema used to have a lot more heart. Or maybe I’m just a sap?

In any event, this film, The Town, that I had hoped was going to be a quality shoot’em up, was simply barely tolerable and, if you’re jonesing to see men dressed up as nuns shooting at cops, I propose you stream this one and fast-forward through the failed attempts at story crafting.

Note: there are many benefits to film study. One is, as previously mentioned while talking about the cartoons portraying William Powell, to always be in on the jokes, homages, nods, repurposing, etc.
I noticed The Town paid quite a few tributes to The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
M.G. McIntyre of Film School Rejects writes:

The Town, Ben Affleck’s 2010 ode to Boston and bank robbery, bears more than just a passing resemblance to Yates’ film, despite being based on a different book. Slicker, faster, more overwrought perhaps, yet there are several scenes taken wholesale directly from  Eddie Coyle. The bank hostage forced to walk, blindfolded, toward the shores of the Mystic River, in a wide panorama. The unsettling vacancy of rubber-masked eyes. The penultimate scenes take place at a Boston sports stadium. Affleck’s film takes its cues more from action films, but a straight line can be drawn from  Eddie Coyle  to the modern reinvention of Boston as a crime film location ripe for new stories.

Anyhow, even though I didn’t love either of these films (The Town + Eddie Coyle), it’s interesting to note the connections they share.
I recommend you either pass on this film or speed through it (if you’re looking for a quality action scene or two).

Due to SXSW’s cancellation, Vulcan Video made an early call to host an outdoor screening for any interested filmmakers that had planned to screen at the festival. The team that made The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo took up Vulcan’s offer.

The filmmakers created a funny and interesting way to present a documentary. They crafted a narrative that allowed them to interview these outlandish and eccentric characters all sharing an affinity for kitsch and the outrageous, but did it under the guise of a curious party, Rigo, searching for the answer to the question, “What makes the pink flamingo such a unique, interesting, and beautiful bird?”

That leads Rigo to interview an assortment of folks in both Europe and the U.S., most notably Baltimore-based director John Waters, to get many thoughts on topics such as individuality, style, flamboyance, and, of course, flamingos.
What was so darn refreshing was the entertaining narrative woven around a film that is essentially 90+ minutes of 7+ interviews. Through the many documentaries I’ve watched, I’ve often thought that whether or not I cared for the subject matter, the presentation was flat and not particularly engaging. In The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo, I cared more about the presentation and style than I did the subject matter.

Though I most likely won’t ever see it again, the film was highly entertaining and I do recommend it.

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