Friday, March 10, 2017

What We've Been Watching: Dietrich, Hepburn, Chess Playing, and a Big Shipwreck

Creature Comforts
Stop-motion animated series with a cast of animals, sound-biting on specific topics such as sporting adventures, Christmas, and visits to veterinarians. The show satirizes modern man on the street and documentary interviews, responding to unseen questioners. The voices of the characters are supplied by everyday people speaking varied regional accents, credited as The Great British Public. The creatures are portrayed in their own habitats. Creature Comforts was originally a short film, then a series of highly popular commercials, later a U.S. series. - Written by David Stevens, IMDB
We've been watching the American series which the library had in dvd format. These are surprisingly charming and funny. The animators did a great job of matching animals with recurring interview subjects and you feel as if you know them by the time they come around in different episodes. A gentle and humorous antidote to a stressful day!

The Scarlet Empress 1934

Sophia Frederica (Dietrich) is minor German royalty who is is brought to Russia by at the behest of Empress Elizabeth (Dresser) to marry her half-wit nephew (Jaffe) and refresh the blood line. Sophia, renamed Catherine by the Empress, is a virtuous and innocent girl. Unfortunately nothing remains pure for long in the Russian court. We see sweet Sophia become Catherine the Great in a film that is a tour de force for both Dietrich and legendary director Josef von Sternberg.

The images from this movie may remain seared on my mind forever. Marlene Dietrich is completely believable in the range from pure innocence to the disillusioned empress who is subverting the mad tsar's army man by man. The surreal set designs reflecting the decadence and inner corruption of the court, making the spaces seem immense while simultaneously cramming everyone practically on top of each other. The direction which makes me finally see why this director was so acclaimed. I'm pretty sure I'll never watch it again but I know I'll never forget it.

A Night to Remember 1958

On April 14, 1912, the "unsinkable" Titanic struck an iceberg. In less than three hours, it had plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking with it more than 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. In his unforgettable render­ing of Walter Lord's book of the same name, the acclaimed British director Roy Ward Baker depicts with sensitivity, awe, and a fine sense of tragedy the ship's last hours.

I got this for my husband because it is supposed to be one of the most historically accurate movies made. I didn't expect to be so involved that the time flew by, that I would be moved to tears, that I would long for history to be rewritten. I know I will watch it again so I can track characters better through the story. A great film.

Queen of Katwe 2016

Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her family. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches children to play chess. Phiona soon becomes a top player under Katende's guidance. But she must learn more than the game as she is exposed to life outside Katwe. — Wikipedia summary

Oh the difference a director makes! In lesser hands than Mira Nair's this would have been an ordinary "family film." Instead we got a work with subtlety, nuance, and a definite sense of place.

It was a touch long. By the time we got to the final chess tournament I felt as if I'd been to two too many. However, in the long run that is neither here nor there.

The Philadelphia Story 1940

Katharine Hepburn is the daughter of a wealthy family and about to marry for the second time. In walks her cunning ex-husband Cary Grant with tabloid reporter James Stewart in tow and disrupts everything.

Casting, witty lines, examination of class, marriage, and judging others ... this film is practically perfect in every way.

I especially like the way they continually introduce typical comic misunderstandings or secrets upon which plot points would normally turn - only to clear them up almost immediately by having someone tell everyone what's really going on. It's a nice way to point out this is playing at a higher level than the normal comedy.

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