Movie Review: The Magnificent Ambersons

 

The tape started with the usual notice, “The following film has been modified from its original version.” HA! That’s rich. Talk about ironic.

A wealthy Indianapolis family has a spoiled child and experiences scandal and financial ruin.

I didn’t realize that this took place in Indianapolis. Sure, there’s a newspaper towards the end of the film that has the city’s name but I don’t remember the film saying where this took place. With all the talk about the advent of cars, I would’ve assumed this would be in Detroit or even the classic car capital of the world, Auburn, IN. Nope.

To say that I hated the main character is an understatement; I detested him. He would’ve received several spankings if I were his father. I’m with the townspeople in that his comeuppance would come swiftly. I found no reason to sympathize with him.

Sad to say, I had trouble keeping track of everyone’s names. It’s another one of those “name-tag movies” where you want them to wear name-tags for one reason or another. Here, people looked too similar and dressed the same. Sure, it may have been the fashion but my mind had trouble paying attention to the names.

Is there anything good about the follow-up to Citizen Kane? The sets and art direction are very detailed, as the cinematography shows. At the same time, there’s too much detail. My eyes were giving me fits as I had no clue where the focal point was. That, and the contrast values seemed to blend in with each other. It may be that I saw this on tape but I doubt it.

The cuts to this film, I think, were a blessing in disguise. Rather than spend 144 minutes with these so-called “magnificent Ambersons”, it’s shortened to 88 minutes due to cuts. Orson Welles didn’t like the cuts made but had to go to Brazil to make another movie. Those cuts were burned. Thus, we are left with this, “modified from the original version”. At the same time, the ending is clumsy. The cuts may have made this better, but we’ll never know.

Give it a year or so and maybe my opinion will change.

4/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

400 Noms for AFI Top 100 for both years

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Movie Review: Pinocchio

 

After I came home last night and after watching Frank and Ollie the night before, I figured I should watch something I haven’t seen in a long time (ten years+). I dug through the tapes in my basement and found our sole copy of this film. I rewound it and reheated some leftovers and sat down to watch it.

A wooden puppet comes to life and learns about right and wrong in order to become a real boy.

When I first started on the 1001 quest, I noticed it was in here and immediately checked it off. I passed it off as just another entry and never really thought about it. Sure, when I watched it as a kid it was because there was a talking puppet and it kept me occupied for an hour and a half. It also helped that I was a kid during the Disney Renaissance and had most of the animated Disney films on tape for my use. Now, I realize there’s a whole lot more that I missed as a kid and am glad to experience as an older person.

For example, the primary and secondary motions that the characters make. As a kid, I only paid attention to the primary (the fact that they move). Now, especially after Frank and Ollie, I looked at the secondary (how they move). One of the strongest characters with secondary motion is Figaro the cat. He could have been an ordinary cat and blend into the background like an animated extra. But no, he acts like a cat as well as a human to some extent, like when he has to wait to eat the delicious-looking fish with hot melted butter. The depth that Figaro has is amazing, especially when you compare his role today as just a cat on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the like.

The relationship that Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio have also has depth. When he is trapped in the cage in the wagon, both of them are resigned to the fact that it is the end, plain on their faces. The boy messed up and his mentor is helpless to do anything about it.

I grew up with the music as some of the songs were either on Disney CDs or on their Disney Sing-Along line. With the iconic “When You Wish Upon a Star”, it is THE Disney song as heard in their theatrical logos in one form or another (though I have difficulty pinpointing what part is used in the retro blue logo from the 1990’s). You can’t separate the two, no matter how hard you try.

One nitpick I have is that the story takes place over two days but it seems longer. We are witness to Pinocchio’s first day as a living being, leaving the shop first thing in the morning, yet when Pinocchio returns to the shop after escaping Pleasure Island, the entire place is cobwebbed in less than a day. I don’t know how to explain it.

I guess I repressed some memories, especially with the above photo. I never was frightened but it was one of those films I could watch when my autistic brother wasn’t around as he would flip out at some of the intense scenes. Thanks to the conditioning back then, it snuck through and minor flashbacks happened. While unpleasant, it is a part of my experience with this film.

With today’s ratings system being what it is, I seriously doubt it would retain the G it has, especially for a theatrical re-release. You have the heavy smoking, complete with a section on Pleasure Island called “Tobacco Road”, intense imagery, language (I had a mental twitch each time the mule synonym was used), and alcohol references with one clock in Gepetto’s shop. I don’t think I’d see it in 3D if it was converted, especially with something like the Coachman’s face as it is.

For the second Disney film in the animation canon, I’ve read a lot of things saying that this was the pinnacle of not only the studio’s career but also of animated films in general, practically nearing Citizen Kane status. If that’s the case, especially for a film from the 1940’s, then is there something missing in animated films since then? I am not 100% sure that I have an answer that would be well-thought out. The fact remains that this film has and will always have a high status in movie history.

The general consensus is that this is one of those films that you are required to watch when you are young. I would add that it is one that should be viewed every so often as it gracefully ages with time, like a fine wine or cheese.

8/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

400 Noms for AFI Top 100 for both years

Winner of Best Original Song and Best Original Score

Movie Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

 

I’ll admit that I saw this movie for the first time in my life this past July. All I had been exposed to beforehand were the references to the last part of the film. Imagine my surprise when I realized there was more story than what I figured.

A man who has given up his dreams wishes he was never born and sees what happens.

I was able to connect with George Bailey. Poor guy. He had worked so hard and had to sacrifice so much of what he wanted for himself that it brought him to a tipping point. It happens to everyone to some extent. As to getting a second chance, I don’t think parallel dimensional traveling is a thing (yet).

It’s a holiday staple that hearkens back to a simpler era, at least in my perspective. While I may not have been around in the 1940’s and there were other things going on like WWII, it seems like the town has heart and will help others when the time comes.

From what I can remember, the first homage to this I can remember was the Rolie Polie Olie episode “It’s a Roundiful Life”. For a children’s show, the George Bailey stand-in didn’t wish to die but rather ran away. This somehow caused the house to lose energy and prompted the family to move, I think. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen the show.

The story itself is complete and there is no need for a sequel. Period.

It’s a well-made film that reminds us about how much we as individual people are needed in each other’s lives.

Attaboy, Clarence. Attaboy, Capra.

8/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

AFI Top 100 (1997): #11

AFI Top 100 (2007): #20

400 Nominations for AFI Top 100 for both years

Winner of a Technical Achievement Award for the develeopment of a new method od simulating falling snow on motion picture sets

Movie Review: The Man Who Came to Dinner

 

Right now, I’m the curtain puller for our school’s production of the play. My field of vision backstage is really small. I figured I would watch the movie version just to see what the audience sees.

A radio host causes mayhem amongst a family after he slips on ice outside their home.

At first, I was intrigued because there was footage that featured locations outside the home, the only set in the play (or at least our production). But as soon as we go inside, there is no escape, save for a few telephone conversations. It is also inside the home that the camera moves about the set like it was a play. Oh wait…

The performances were subpar. OK, so I may have been too comfortable with the rehearsals I’ve seen and kept comparing those performances with this version. But really, Bert Jefferson’s “drunk” acting sounds like his sober acting. Jimmy Durante as Banjo is really the highlight of the film. After nearly an hour or so of polite laughing in my head, he was a nice part of the film.

Taking this in context, I suppose the audience at the time didn’t go to see this expecting character depth. Bert and Maggie are really the only people involved that have an arc that comes to a satisfactory resolution. Sheridan just is and learns nothing in the end.

If you need to see this because your school or theater is doing a production of it, you might as well but I wouldn’t expect much.

5/10

Movie Review: Gaslight

 

Psychological horror can do terrible things to sanity, especially during dinner. I got a VHS print from my library one evening and brought some reheated leftovers. It didn’t really affect my appetite but it was an interesting look into how evil some people can be.

A woman moves into a house with her new husband. Her husband drives her insane as he has a secret.

For the 1940’s, this is harsh treatment. I didn’t think this subject matter would pass under the Code. However, it’s the poor treatment that is the shock value when seen today. I’m not sure how often it happens today but the term “gaslighting” was made as a result of this movie.

I’m no psych major but since gaslighting is a thing, is it shown in psych classes as a teaching aid? Let me know in the comments below.

As for the 1001, again, it’s the psychological treatment. Really, that’s all there is to it. It’s harsh but a decent film.

6/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

Winner of Best Actress and Best Art Direction