A Few Thoughts On Five Cary Grant Movies

I do this thing when I read a book about someone or watch a documentary about them where I want to absorb as much of their art as possible. Usually, I can’t get to the material fast enough and something else catches my eye, but I’m trying to stay focused on watching Cary Grant movies after reading Marc Eliot’s book on the actor. I’ve borrowed a number of his films from the library and only watched half of one, but recently took advantage of several of his films appearing on TCM On Demand. In the last few months, I’ve come to realize that TCM doesn’t keep its films on there for very long, so I’m not sure if they’re still there. Hit the jump to read my quick roundups of To Catch A Thief, Mr. Lucky, Houseboat, Walk, Don’t Run and The Philadelphia Story!

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Dastardly Double Features Episode 2 – The Haunting & Legend Of Hell House!

ddf-logoThis week, Mr. Dastardly and I watch two haunted house classics: The Haunting and The Legend Of Hell House!

Listen to the episode here!

Audiobook Review: Jaws by Peter Benchley, Read by Erik Steele (1974)

jawes audiobookAlfred Hitchcock once said that you shouldn’t make a movie out of a good book. That’s what he supposedly did with The Birds and that worked out pretty well, right? Well, apparently Steven Spielberg did the same thing with Peter Benchley’s Jaws. The book, much like the movie, finds a resort town terrorized by a great white shark. Sheriff Brody, shark scientist Matt Hooper and grizzled fisherman Quint are the only three people willing to go out and put a stop to all this.

I spent most of the day listening to this book while doing work and watching our daughter and have to say, I was pretty bored. Things start off interesting, with Brody trying to figure out how to handle this unusual problem. While, in general, I think the movie is all around better than the book, I will say that the complexities of keeping the beaches open are more deeply explored in the book and make more sense than “the mayor’s a jerk.”

Speaking of the mayor, he’s a far more detailed character in the book, but I’m not sure if that’s such a great thing. The overall problem with the book is that it spends far too much time away from the shark. As you may or may not know, there’s an entire subplot the finds Brody’s wife having an affair with Hooper, whose older brother she dated in high school. There’s a whole dinner party scene and then one where they go to dinner. All of this took about an hour in audiobook form. AN HOUR! Even worse? It didn’t really have much to do with the story other than to make us feel a little better when SPOILER Hooper dies in his shark cage (something Spielberg was supposedly going to keep in the film version, but changed for a bit of a happier ending). At the end of the day, when you’re writing a book about sharks, write about sharks.

I know I shouldn’t be comparing the book to the film as much as I am, but it’s nearly impossible because I’m so familiar with the movie and it’s one of the best films ever made. Still, there are some interesting meta elements that I noticed while listening to the book. First and foremost, the movie kicked off huge interest in sharks that we’re still experiencing today. In a roundabout way, that makes the shark action in the book much easier to picture. In fact, with the ending, I was basically watching a slightly edited version of the film in my head while it was going on.

I don’t think Jaws is necessarily a bad book — it sold like gangbusters when it came out in 1974 — but I do think it’s a less focused version of this story than Spielberg’s. In fact, had the affair subplot been excised or shortened, I would have liked it a lot more. I even enjoyed some of the characters who aren’t in the movie like Hendricks and Meadows, though completely understand why the nicer version of Hooper in the film was able to carry a lot of their weight. At the end of the day, if you’re interested in both the book and the movie, I’d read the book first and then watch the movie, which is the exact opposite thing I would suggest if you’re interested in The Shining.

Finally, I absolutely loved Brody’s line, “I’ll never be as old as I feel today.” I feel like that at least three times a week.

Halloween Scene: Bates Motel Episode 1 “First You Dream, Then You Die”

bates motel

I gave up watching a show I actively enjoy — yes, The Devil’s Ride, even though I complained about it’s realness recently — in favor of checking out Bates Motel on A&E. I’ve been writing about this series for what seems like forever over on Spinoff Online and yet I was still curious to see the results. A big part of that comes from the source material, just last year I watched all four of the Psycho films and got a weird, giddy thrill not only when Norman and Norma pulled up to the hotel, but even more so when they went inside and it looked perfect. I was also curious to see Carlton Cuse’s next offering. He was one of the driving forces behind Lost, a show I still hold in high esteem, so I wanted to see what he’d do next.

Bates Motel takes a Year One approach to the world of Psycho, showing how Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) made their way to the infamous Bates Motel. SPOILERS FOLLOW. The show literally starts with death, that of Norman’s dad and then jumps six months into the future as she surprises him with the purchase of the motel. Norman’s a bit odd, but we discover that he tends not to make connections with people because his mom moves him around so much. He meets a group of girls who seem to like him right off the bat and even invite him to study with them. His mom says no, so he sneaks out  and meets up with them, but they really take him to a weird house party. While he’s gone, the man whose family the motel used to belong to breaks into the house, attacks Norma and rapes her. Norman comes home just in time and knocks the guy out. When he leaves the room, Norma stabs the crap out of her attacker. The rest of the episode revolves around moving the body to one of the motel rooms, ripping up carpet, talking to cops, Norman dealing with all this at school, the disposal of the body and a super-weird talk between mother and son where he tells her that she’s his entire world. You get the idea pretty quickly about exactly who you’re dealing with in these characters. The looming mysteries revolve more around how those characters will interact with the people of the town, the mysterious and dangerous sounding older son who we only hear on the phone and why a young girl is being kept chained up in a mysterious locale by unknown forces.

Having watched the first episode, I’m not really sure how I feel. I’m thrown off balance and not just because of the graphic content of the show. I think the main problem I had with the episode, or possibly the main problem of the series as a whole, is that it lacks a consistent tone. For one thing, the time period feels all-over-the-place. The Bates’ dress as if they’re straight out of the 50s, they only talk about or watch old movies and the setting is so firmly entrenched in that time period that you get thrown off a bit when Norman is shown listening to an iPod and meets other kids who are more of the modern times. I knew from writing about the series that it was set in the present, but the show didn’t convey that until well into the first episode, something that probably threw more people off than it needed to. The real question here, though, is why they went with that vibe and that reveal. Was there a point beyond homage? If so, I’m not sure what it was. It doesn’t seem wise to throw your new audience so many random curve balls this early in a series, especially if there isn’t a clear payoff for them. I already get that we’re dealing with weirdness, it’s written on every single character’s face.

I also felt like some things were presented in such a way — like the teen party scene — that look over-the-top and kind of crazy. But then a few moments later you have a very real, visceral and mostly on-camera attack on Norma that doesn’t flinch or look away. That moment was uncomfortable enough as it was for obvious reasons, but even more so if your brain let you think, “… but, two minutes ago I saw a girls in neon clothes jumping on a bed under a backlight, now…this?” I haven’t watched much horror based television but this show does seem to be taking some cues from Twin Peaks which really is its own beast. While that series kept a very consistent tone all around — one that allowed for all kinds of weirdness, but all presented in a serious manner when necessary — this one seems to go from wacky to ultra-real and serious without much grace, almost looking like scenes from different movies cut together.

Before moving on to one of the show’s other problems, I want to talk a little bit more about the rape scene. I was as uncomfortable watching that scene as everyone else, but while it was playing out I also found myself wondering how the plus/minus evaluation for it played out in the writers room. You could have had the exact same scene with the same outcome had he only been there to attack her and not sexually assault her. I could see them arguing that you’ve got to have a more serious violation going on to make this man’s murder more palatable for young Norman, especially Norma’s argument that they can’t go to the cops because she’ll be  a laughingstock (she’s counting on his desire to protect her). I think you could have gotten there if Norman had walked in on this guy just about to stab his mom. There’s three reasons I didn’t like the scene. First off, it’s just plain uncomfortable to watch in a way that I don’t want to be uncomfortable while watching horror (I do not watch rape revenge movies,generally speaking). Second, it felt like lazy writing, as if they couldn’t think of a different way to justify murder and manipulation. We’re talking parents and children here, wanting to protect one another is built-in. And third, I think that scene might have turned a lot of people off the show as a whole, including my wife who watched along with me even though she does not like horror or have any special affinity for Psycho.

Another huge problem and an element that contributes to the show’s odd tone is Freddie Highmore’s inability to hide his British accent consistently. There’s times where he hides it well and just sounds like a soft spoken young man, but other times, usually when he’s angry, he sounds like a pub-drunk Brit. I think he does a good job of capturing the confused sexuality and overall repressed nature of Norman Bates, but the kid can’t sound like he’s his mother’s son. That’s a huge problem, one that can break the show for a lot of people. As with the time trickery and the weird tone, these are the kinds of things that can knock people out of the story. They might be small annoyances for some, but they can easily add up to become a too-distracting aspect of the show for some people to get involved in.

I was talking to my wife earlier today about the show and she said she wasn’t int it. She summed it up pretty well: she’s crazy, he’ll do anything for her, I know where this winds up, do I care how it gets there? That’s a really good question. As I mentioned above, it looks like they’re throwing a whole town of crazy at the Bates’ to see what happens. I’m not sure if that’s a set-up I’m super interested in. With something like Dexter, I can be into the overarching stories of the series as well as the murder-of-the-week stuff, but as of right now, it doesn’t seem like Bates has as much that makes me want to come back for more especially if it continues to wallow in such terrible human behavior.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure about how I feel about the show. I’m still an old school, DVR-less viewer which means I’ve got to actually pick and choose which shows I want to watch. I might give Bates Motel another episode or two, but if it continues to feel wobbly, I might just hop back on over to The Devil’s Ride. If people like it I might catch up down the line. I also feel a little wary of A&E, though, because they really sucked me in with Breakout Kings and then left me hanging. Do I want to get into another one of their shows only to have the same thing happen?

Halloween Scene: The Psycho Legacy (2010)

Not technically a horror movie, I think The Psycho Legacy still makes a fitting Halloween Scene entry because a) it’s about one of the most important horror movies of all time and b) I haven’t done one of these posts in a while and wanted to get back to them!

I’ve had this double disc documentary about Psycho I-IV sitting around for quite a while. I thought about maybe rewatching the classic original and then going through and watching the rest for the first time before watching the doc, but decided against it. Maybe I should have because the doc is spoiler heavy. I wasn’t mad, though, how else would they talk about the flicks without talking about their twists, turns and endings.

As it is, I’m not the world’s biggest Psycho fan. I’ve seen it a time or two and respect it like crazy, but for some reason it never made its way into my top three (Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween), which is funny because all of those movies owe a debt to Psycho and Hitchcock. After watching this documentary, I want to watch it again and hopefully like it even more.

It also made me want to watch the sequels, something I’ve never been particularly interested in. I had never thought about or researched them much, so I didn’t know that Anthony Perkins was involved throughout all of the movies, even directing one. I also wasn’t aware that one time interviewee of mine Mick Garris directed the fourth installment or that Elliot himself Henry Thomas starred as a young Norman Bates in the fourth movie.

It’s interesting watching something like this because it’s got a great mix of cast and crew from all the movies–all of whom seem to have had a wonderful time making all the flicks–as well as directors, writers and bloggers who had nothing to do with the making of the films, but have become fans. I think it’s interesting to get their perspective on the flicks and while they might wind up a bit skewed–no one complains about the sequels, I mean–I like hearing the good about movies that I’ve only really heard being panned.

There’s a ton of extras that came along with the disc, but I haven’t gotten to them yet, but probably will after watching the sequels. All in all though, I found the documentary to be well made, very interesting and made me want to learn even more about Anthony Perkins. He seems like he was a really classy dude who knew how to be in and make movies. Maybe the Psycho flicks will be part of this year’s daily Halloween Scene October celebration? Hopefully I’ll remember…

Ridin’ With Hitch: The Trouble With Harry (1955)

I’m embarrassed to say that I have seen too few Alfred Hitchcock movies. I’ve seen Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds and Rope and I hardly remember Vertigo. Luckily, NetBox has a ton of Hitch’s movies available for watching. I’ve got them all organized into a clump on my queue that I hope to start making my way through. First up was a fairly different film for Hitch called The Trouble With Harry which is essentially a comedy with some horror elements (Harry is a corpse  being dragged around a small New England town being buried and dug up).

This was a delightful film. It’s black comedy at its best, which I love. But it’s also intricately written without getting overly complex. Here’s the deal, Edmund Gwenn (Santa from Miracle On 34th Street) is out shooting at rabbits in the woods. After he’s done he comes across a dead body, assumes he accidentally shot the man and tries to figure out what to do. Of course, it seems like the whole town comes out to take a walk in that exact area and either don’t notice the body or seem generally nonplussed by its appearance. From there, it gets a little complicated and I won’t get all the way into it, but Gwenn and John Forsythe go back and forth about burrying the body, meet some ladies who both claim to have had a hand in Harry’s death and have to dig up and bury him over and over and over again. If I had one complaint it’s that the movie  gets a little repetitive with various people returning to the burial site. Aside from that, though, this one’s a home run for me full of strange and interesting characters. Oh, this was also Shirley MacLaine’s first flick and she was hot stuff and funny as you’d expect. My favorite character, though, has to be MacLaine’s son played by none other than Jerry Mathers who would go on to play Beaver on Leave It To Beaver. The kid is just SO weird. He calls tomorrow today and yesterday tomorrow or some such craziness. It might seem like throaway dialogue from a character who’s not super important, but it’s touches like that that elevate a movie from pretty good to outstanding in my book.

So, do yourself a favor and give The Trouble With Harry a shot. I know I had some reservations when I saw that this was a comedy from 1955. Not knowing the humor would still hold up or whether I’d even get it (what if they ONLY make jokes about Victrolas?!), but it felt really fresh and I’d like to think that little towns like this still exist somewhere in New England filled with interesting folks, strange kids, hot single moms, people who don’t care about murder and snooty artists who don’t like cities because everyone’s wearing hats!