Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Menu, Amsterdam, Man vs. Bee, and others

The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) **
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  Loretta Young, Guy Kibbee, Mickey Rooney, John Wayne

I love a good boxing movie.  This one was new to me.  Fairbanks plays a spoiled light-heavyweight boxer named Jimmy Dolan who wins the championship, then drunkenly, accidentally kills a reporter who learns that his goody-two shoes image is a fake.  Dolan's friend and girl double cross him, steal his money and a watch, dump him in the country, then flee - but they die in a fiery car crash after a police chase.  The authorities believe Dolan is the burned corpse (the watch, the girlfriend).  Dolan goes to his lawyer to get some money in the bank, but the lawyer also double crosses him, steals his money, and forces Dolan into hiding - if he comes forward the cops would arrest him for manslaughter.  One of those cops is a washed up detective played by veteran character actor Guy Kibbee with his own reasons to find Dolan.
Dolan ends up across the country at a small home for disabled kids, doing odd jobs.  Loretta Young is the teacher, and the great character actress Aline MacMahon is the housekeeper.  One of the kids is played by Mickey Rooney in an early role.  One of the kids accidentally tales a picture of Dolan that gets in a local paper - showing his boxing stance, but not his face.  But Kibbee the cop sees it and places Dolan, and heads out to look for him.
The home, of course, is suddenly in need of $2,000 or it will face foreclosure.  Conveniently, there's a boxing match coming up, $500 per round against a mountain of boxer.  Dolan signs up, planning to fight as a righty to disguise himself (he's a natural southpaw - he's also grown a mustache - not much of a disguise but he looks more like Fairbanks!!).  Also boxing in the exhibition is a young John Wayne in a great little performance.
The fight is great!  Wayne and a few other tomato cans get beat up by the big boxer - then Dolan gets in the ring, with Kibbee the cop and the housekeeper in the crowd, Young and the kids listening on the radio.  He gets beat up good, as a righty, lasting three rounds.  But he needs a fourth round to get to $2000 and save the home.  He goes down hard on the canvas - and Kibbee rushes up to him, calls him Jimmy, and tells him to let him have it with the left!! 
So Dolan gets up and gives it to he big boxer, good - the classic "I'm really a southpaw" bit.  It was fun!  I thought he might knock the big guy out, but he's too big.  Dolan gets knocked out the next round.  Kibbee arrests him, let's him tell a story to Young (now his girl!) about going east for boxing matches, and I thought for sure he would let him go.  But he doesn't, yet.  He takes him to the train.   It's there they have a long talk, and it's clear that Kibbee also has a past that went unfulfilled.  It's here he lets Dolan go. 
This is from 1933, before the Hays Code - and Dolan is very guilty of manslaughter.  A few years later, the story would have to end differently.  So it's refreshing to see the morally right ending here. 
Great performances, especially from supporting characters.  Good surprising ending.  And a sweet love story.  Great film.    

Amsterdam (2022) ***

A wonderful David O. Russell film about friendship, art, love, brutality, and fascism.  The central question resonated with me.  Why are we with someone?  Do we choose them, or do we need them?  If we need them, why - is it for us, or for them, and for the right reasons?  If we choose them it's got to be for the right reasons, the healthy meaningful reasons.  Whether for friendship or love.  And these relationships get us through our toughest moments, and also provide for the most joy.  An excellent film.  
It's also a little grotesque, and very timely.  Good people have to stand up to bullies.  

The Menu (2022) **

An allegorical film about different types of privilege.  Beautiful, darkly funny, violent.  Avant garde.  Yes it's about a group of diners at an exclusive island restaurant; but they have been specifically chosen for this very special meal, and one of the guests isn't supposed to be there.  What happens is very surprising, and asks the question - are you a giver, or a taker??

The Quick and the Dead (1995) **

Sam Raimi's revisionist Western holds up.  Sharon Stone competes in a gunslingers' "contest" in a small town run by outlaw Gene Hackman.  Different archetypes are deconstructed - the Kid, the Preacher etc, - as they duel to the death.  Stone herself has a secret and a grudge to settle.  It's a fun film, in the Sam Raimi style, with imaginative editing and lots of dutch angles.  

Man vs. Bee (2022) **

Every fan of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean will love this slapstick, cringey series.  Made up of nine ten-minute episodes, this is effectively a feature.  Atkinson's Trevor Bingely is a first time house-sitter trying to make enough money to take his estranged daughter on a holiday.  But the house he gets assigned to is a "smart home" with automated EVERYTHING, and what appear to be priceless paintings and sculptures and cars, and a peanut sensitive dog.  When a bee gets stuck inside, and Bingely gets obsessed with getting it out of the house, everything goes haywire.  I laughed out loud.  Repeatedly.  Great to watch with kids.

White Noise (2022) **

I love Noah Baumbach.  He captures dysfunction in middle class families like no other filmmaker.  And when he works in the past, he excels.  So this story should be a knockout, but it's an odd exercise.  The first mistake I think some critics are making is that they take this story seriously.  This is not realistic.  Like The Menu these are not real people we are watching.  Their circumstances are not believable.  These characters are in situations that they either shrug off as not important, or they don't give them as much weight than they should.  I think it's lampooning academia that invents itself for itself; invented and exaggerated crises; and domestic bliss and infidelity and how we react to it (especially men).  The great dance scene at the end reminds us that we were just watching a movie.

**** Masterpiece
*** Must See
** Worth Seeing
* Has Redeeming Facet
* Not Worth Seeing

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