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Posts tagged ‘comedy’

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

Driving Miss DaisyDirected by Bruce Beresford

It has taken me forever to finally get my thoughts about Driving Miss Daisy written down. It’s partly because my feelings about it are complex, but it’s also because I have a new boyfriend, and while I like to write about movies, there are many things that are more enjoyable that I can do with my boyfriend, so this has been put on the back burner for a bit. Once I get in the rhythm of having a boyfriend again, posts should start appearing with more regularity. So without further ado, I present my thoughts on Driving Miss Daisy:

As is oddly common with so many of these movies from 1989, Driving Miss Daisy is a movie I grew up watching. Again and again and again and again. Yet somehow, I haven’t ever gotten tired of it. In fact, immediately after I finished watching Deliverance and was traumatized by it and wanted to get it out of my head, I turned on Driving Miss Daisy. It calmed me down and got the scary, icky feeling to go away. It reminded me that there is good in this world.

So what’s the story?  After 72-year-old Miss Daisy Worthen crashes yet another car, her son Boolie decides that she needs a chauffeur. Against her wishes, Boolie hires Hoke Colburn for the job. Although Miss Daisy refuses to even acknowledge that Hoke’s existence at first, their relationship slowly becomes one of mutual admiration and friendship, something amazingly unusual between and white woman and a black man in pre-Civil Rights era Georgia.

The Good: Because I have a hard time explaining everything else, I’m going to start with the screenplay. It’s easy. The screenplay is wonderful. The author, Alfred Uhry, adapted his own Pulitzer-prize winning play for the screen. In my opinion, the best way to get a good movie from another medium is to have the author of the original medium write the screenplay. They know why they wrote the play/book/short story and can put that motivation and intention into the screenplay. They are able to take out the less important things and expose the important core more easily than some random screenplay writer. Anyway, back to the screenplay – it’s delightful. The speech patterns and expressions of the American South are fun, and in this case, you get to hear ways of talking from the black people and the white as Hoke and Daisy become close and share so much of their lives.

Here is where I come to the tricky part that I’m not sure how to explain. To show the passage of time in a movie that spans 25 years, everything had to come together perfectly–and everything did. The film elements do double duty; they show things about the characters, like social class and funny characteristics, but they also have to show the passage of time. Instead of making one long paragraph explaining how all the film elements came together to really show that the relationship took time to grow from nothing to tolerance to true friendship, I’ll write about each one separately to highlight how exactly it did its job.  

Acting: Jessica Tandy as Daisy and Morgan Freeman as Hoke both give amazing performances. Daisy, who is described as “too much there,” is intelligence, fierce and iron-willed, unyielding in her ideas of standards. Tandy shows how Daisy softens as she ages, realizing in her old age that maybe some of her ideals weren’t so good after all.  Freeman plays Hoke as a man who is too proud to take money for nothing, a man who knows his own worth but isn’t pushy about it. I love the habit that Hoke has of working his mouth in a certain way; it’s something I’ve always respected about Freeman’s performance. As he ages, Hoke realizes that he and Daisy are on a much more equal footing, and he acts accordingly. Dan Akroyd is excellent as Daisy’s only child, the long-suffering Boolie. Although he respects his mother, he is often impatient with her stubborn ways. He mellows, though, especially toward the end when he realizes that he misses his mother’s funny ways. Boolie’s wife, Florine, is played by Patti LuPone. Florine tries hard to be kind to her impossible mother-in-law at the start of the movie, but eventually realizes that no matter what how hard she tries, Daisy is never going to accept her. Florine remains high-strung her entire life; some people just don’t change. LuPone shows this to perfection.

Set Decoration: As happens in life, the things surrounding the characters change. Since the movie is about driving, the cars are an obvious example of this. The car that Miss Daisy crashes, the catalyst for the events of the movie, is a brand-new 1948 Hudson. Her car is replaced by another exactly the same, but whenever Boolie decides it’s time for his mother to have a new car, every five years or so, the styles change. The car from the fifties is longer and sleeker than the 1948 Hudson, and the cars continue to get more aerodynamic as time goes on. The photography occasionally highlights the registration tag, which changes year to year as does the registration on cars in real life. Daisy often calls Boolie, and since Boolie’s wife, Florine, is fashion-forward, her telephones are, too. They have a standard black dial phone in the 1940s, but the phone Boolie uses in the 1970s is harvest gold. It’s a teeny detail, but it’s evidence of how hard the crew worked to make everything perfectly fit the time. Boolie’s factory is another place where we can see the passage of time. At the beginning, it’s full of factory workers manually running the machines. By the end, the factory has many more machines with fewer people; these people are keeping an eye on the machines rather than physically running them. Even the songs used keep the passage of time in mind. The songs are always accurate for the year. Daisy sings songs that were written before the turn of the century, ones that a woman of her age would have learned as a child. When Florine throws her <GASP> Christmas party, one of her records is “Santa Baby.” Boolie is looking skeptically at it, as it’s the first year it came out. I suppose the music isn’t usually set decoration, but in this case, where it’s used to set the year and not just the feeling of a scene, I think it fits.

Makeup/Hair: Every single makeup artist who needs to age people for a movie needs to take note of the artistry of Driving Miss Daisy. Growing up watching  this movie may be why I am so impatient of poorly-done aging. (I’m looking at you, Giant!). All of the actors get more wrinkly as the age, even Miss Daisy, who is so old to begin with. She becomes skinnier the way that some old people do as they age. Boolie gets chubbier and balder with the passage of time. Hoke looked like an old man to begin with, but the makeup (along with Freeman’s old man walk) manages to age him, too, with the wrinkles on his forehead becoming deeper and more pronounced. His hair  slowly goes from grey to white. Flourine gets some wrinkles, but she also looks incredibly preserved, leading the viewer to wonder if maybe Florine got some work done. Her hairstyles change with the times perfectly. (Also, her makeup is so well-done that I didn’t even recognize Patti LuPone, even after I realized that she was in the movie.)  Near the end of the movie, Hoke’s granddaughter drops him off at the Worthen home. She has an Afro. Again, a tiny little detail is snuck into the movie to show how much time has passed and how the world has changed.

Costumes: The costuming was so crucial for this movie. If the clothes hadn’t been right, no one would have believed that 25 years had passed throughout the movie. Daisy’s clothes don’t change much, of course, because she’s an older woman and is happy in the clothes she has. My great-grandmother was the same way; when I was in my 20s, she was wearing the same clothes I remembered from my  childhood. Hoke wears a uniform, so his clothes don’t really change. But Boolie’s clothes – oh, they change. The first time we see him, his suit pants are high-waisted and his tie is very wide. Throughout the movie, the pants’ waists get lower, the ties get skinnier, and the colors of the suits vary as the styles change. He wears a hat at the beginning, but has given up his hats by the end of the movie. He starts wearing glasses as he gets older. While Florine is always wearing year-appropriate fashions, she’s not in the movie nearly as much as Boolie is. I can imagine her picking his clothes for him so that he is always stylish, and I can see him wearing whatever she tells him to because it’s just not  worth the fight.

The Bad: The score itself  isn’t bad; I once had a film teacher say it was “nice,” and you “can tell it’s nice, because it has lots of clarinet in it. Clarinets are nice instruments.” The themes are fun and positive. The thing that bothers me is that it’s always there. It’s like the filmmakers just couldn’t stand the silence. I realize that was how film music worked at the time, but I’m glad that’s not the fashion anymore.

The Ugly: It’s too nice of a movie to have anything ugly in it per se, but there is ugly beneath the surface. I just accepted the story as it was presented in the movie when I was young, but now I feel kind of uncomfortable watching it. There’s almost an undertone of “Isn’t the white lady wonderful because she made friends with a black man?” The only thing that makes me okay with watching the movie is that Alfred Urhy based his play/screenplay on the relationship of his white southern grandmother and her black chauffeur. I guess I would like to see the story from both sides: how did Hoke feel about the relationship? How did the growth of this friendship change or not change his life? Part of me wants to say it was just the South in the 1940s-1970s and to accept what’s there, but the rest of me wants to point out that Hoke has a life outside of being Daisy’s driver, and we don’t get to see any of that. It’s a two-sided story that only gets told from one point of view.  

Oscars Won: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Jessica Tandy); best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium; best makeup.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor in a leading role (Morgan Freeman); best actor in a supporting role (Dan Aykroyd); best art direction-set direction; best costume design; best film editing.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

deadpoetssocietyDirected by Peter Weir

I saw Dead Poets Society for the first time during my sophomore year in high school. My English teacher technically tied it to the curriculum (it’s about a boarding school; we were reading A Separate Peace, which takes place in a boarding school), but I think she really just didn’t want to teach. Either that, or she had a crush on Robert Sean Leonard and wanted an excuse to watch the movie. This theory is not as far-fetched as it sounds; when we were talking about sexual objectification, we watched the volleyball scene from Top Gun.

So what’s the story? A unconventional new teacher inspires a group of teenaged boys at a boarding school in the late 1950s.

The Good: The screenplay for this movie is astounding. There isn’t one main character; Todd, Neil, Charlie Dalton, Knox Overstreet – they all have their struggles, their own voices, their own parts of the movie. John Keating is not so much the main character as he is the eye of the storm, the catalyst for the boys’ growth. All of the boys change, but in their own ways. Charlie finds a constructive way to use his humor and brash personality. Knox learns to stand up for love. Neil finds his passion. Todd finds himself. Keating’s speeches are written perfectly, from the choice of words to the choice of poems used. An entire relationship is shown by the fact that Neil uses the word “father” instead of “dad.” Even after almost twenty years, I hadn’t forgotten the line about being the intellectual equivalent of the 98 pound weakling. The writing is simply brilliant.

I can’t praise the acting enough. Robin Williams gives a magnificent performance as John Keating. The part calls for an actor who can balance slightly zany with inspiring and wise. I can’t think of a better actor for the part. Both Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke had their breakout roles as Neil Perry and Todd Anderson, respectively. (Of course, Ethan Hakwe has changed so much since 1989 that I had to check out his IMDb page to make sure it was the same Ethan Hawke that appears in Gattaca.) Josh Charles (Knox Overstreet), Gale Hansen (Charlie Dalton), Dylan Kussman (the traitor Cameron), and James Waterston (Pitts) are each completely believable in their roles. Also, I would like to thank the casting director for not casting 30-year-olds as high school seniors. The young men were all within a year or two of 18. They actually look like high school students. It’s a wonderful thing.

The cinematography adds a fascinating dimension to the film. The scenes where Keating is teaching are shot from different angles so that sometimes the viewer feels like one of boys watching him from a seated position, while other times the viewer feels like Keating, watching the faces of the boys as they learn to think for themselves. The whirling swirling cinematography of the scene where Todd finds a poem in himself allows us to see the Todd’s inner dizziness for ourselves.

The Bad: There isn’t a lot of original music in Dead Poet’s Society, but the themes written for the movie are a beautiful: stirringly inspirational with just a tinge of sadness. However, there is a section where the music is played on a synthesizer. Inspirational music played on a synthesizer does not age well.

The Ugly (Spoiler Alert): I have struggled with depression and despair. I have decided to kill myself more than once; I had plans and suicide notes, but never the guts to do it. I am incredibly grateful to the friend who had the foresight to not leave his handgun at my house when he stored most of his stuff in my closet. I mention all of this because I have learned that it takes incredible bravery to kill yourself. Neil looked ahead and saw a life he didn’t want stretching in front of him, but in my experience, hopelessness and despair (and for such a short time; he hadn’t even talked with his father at a calmer moment) is not reason enough to kill yourself. Maybe Neil had more going on than was shown in the movie, but he had accepted his life up until Keating encouraged his class to be true to themselves. Maybe he could have held out until graduation and then gone and lived his life, but I don’t think that a Neil who looks down the road of his life and believes that he will never have the courage to stand up to his father is a Neil who could have sufficient strength to take his own life. Cinematically, Neil’s suicide is necessary to the movie, but realistically, I don’t think it would have happened.

Oscar Won: Best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Robin Williams); best director.

Stage Door (1937)

ORIGINAL-STAGE-DOOR-MOVIE-POSTERDirected by Gregory LaCava

I feel like the films from 1937 are trying to deceive me. We had a musical that wasn’t a musical (The Awful Truth), a film noir that wasn’t a film noir (Dead End), a historical movie that ended up being set in the present (Captains Courageous). Now with Stage Door, we get a movie that was promoted as a comedy (“The gaiety…glamour…foolishness and fun of showbusiness!”), but which has a too-serious ending.

So What’s the Story? The young women living at the Footlights boarding house all have the same ambition: stardom on the stage. Some are actresses, some dancers, some singers, but they’re all just waiting for that big break. Into this madhouse of laughter and rivalry comes the mysterious Terry Randall, who just doesn’t fit in. She’s too wealthy and too educated to understand these smart-mouthed girls. As she beings to settle in, she begins to see that much more is required for stage work than talent and pluck.

The Good: I have never seen Katharine Hepburn not a good job in a movie, but she is brilliant as Terry Randall. Standoffish and snobby at first, she learns to appreciate what her housemates are going through the longer she’s there. She loves them and sticks up for them. With a lesser actress, Stage Door would not have been the strong movie it is.

Many of the girls living in the boarding house would become famous actresses in later years. Ginger Rogers was already well known, of course. She is fabulous as Jean, Terry’s slightly bitter wise-cracking roommate. Gail Patrick was also famous at the time. She plays Linda, a woman who has decided that accepting advances from a man is better than struggling as an actress. Ann Miller is Annie, an optimistic girl who is Jean’s dance partner in a tap routine. Eve Arden plays Eve, a jaded young woman who wears her cat around her neck like a stole (yes, it sounds silly, but seriously, how did they train that cat?). The name that is perhaps more familiar to people now is that of Lucille Ball. She plays Judy, a girl from Seattle who is more interested in boys than auditions. All of these actresses are so funny; they deliver their quips at a whip-crack pace that somehow manages to seem natural. Each displays a distinct personality even though they all want the same thing.

There is one girl in the boardinghouse who doesn’t join in the fun, but is still sweet and kind. Kay is recognized as a great actress, but she has lost confidence in her abilities because she hasn’t had a part for over a year. Andrea Leeds plays the part with great sensitivity, showing Kay’s determination and desperation as she tries to get the part she was born to play.

Adolphe Menjou is in Stage Door, as well as being One Hundred Men and a Girl. 1937 must have been a busy year for him. However, he is not the sweet father that he played in One Hundred Men and a Girl, but a slimy stage producer who takes advantage of desperate girls who want to be stars. He is really, really good at being gross, unlikable, and debonair. It’s hard to see the kindly father in this smug, wealthy jerk.

The screenplay is quite good. It brings out the personalities and contrasts between each of the characters in a humorous way, but it’s also able to make tragedy personal and realistic. It’s not just a sunny comedic romp through a bustling girls’ boarding house; the screenplay shows the downsides and sadness of show business just as well as it does the humor. There isn’t exactly a happy ending, which makes the movie deeper and truer.

The Bad: With the quips flying quickly from every direction as the girls talk over each other, sometimes the lines get garbled. Everything is so funny that I want to hear everything they say, so it’s a little bit sad that they don’t all come out clearly.

Both Ginger Rogers and Ann Miller are in this movie, and there is no fantastic dance number to show off their skills. It might have been out of place. It may have slowed the movie down. But still. Two great dancers that don’t get a chance to show off their skills? It is a sad waste of talent.

The Ugly: Nope. Stage Door is really a well-done picture.

The Apology: I’m sorry that I kept referring to all the young women as girls. They are (mostly) all adults. I will use the excuse that they are always called “girls” in the movie, and so that’s what is in my head.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a supporting role (Andrea Leeds); best director; best writing, screenplay.

One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)

One-Hundred-Men-and-a-Girl-PosterDirected by Henry Koster

Some things are definitely cute. Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. Pikachu is cute. But I hate it when people call other things cute: “That’s a cute book,” or “It was such a cute movie!” When people work hard on an artistic endeavor, they deserve to hear something more specific than the rather generic “cute”. As much as I hate it, though, I am going to have to use it now: One Hundred Men and a Girl is a cute movie.

So what’s the story? John Cardwell is a trombonist struggling to get work during the Great Depression. Every night, he waits outside the concert hall with the hope of meeting the great conductor Leopold Stokowski and getting an audition with him; however, he is never successful. After an encounter with some wealthy arts patrons who carelessly promise financial backing, his young teenaged Patricia decides she will get all the unemployed musicians together to form their own orchestra. Her grit and tenacity, along with much confusion, lead to a happy ending.

The Great: I know I don’t usually do a “great” section, but Deanna Durbin is so amazing that she needs special mention. The girl can sing. And by sing, I don’t mean that she can carry a tune or sing pop songs; Deanna Durbin had a beautiful operatic voice. She was only fifteen when One Hundred Men and a Girl was released in theaters, and it is hard to believe that she does her own singing. Not only could she sing, but Deanna Durbin could also act. She does a beautiful job in One Hundred Men and a Girl. There are moments when she’s talking fast because she’s so excited, but you can understand every word. She is completely convincing at every moment. This was my first experience with Deanna Durbin, and I remain completely blown away.

The Good: Deanna Durbin may have been the standout, but other great actors were involved in this movie. Adolphe Menjou gives a sweet performance of a man who has been ripped apart by the world, but is willing to hope again for his daughter’s sake. He goes from hopeless to grudgingly hopeful to exultant as the movie goes on. Mischa Auer brings enough humor as Michael to offset the hopelessness of the beginning. Frank Jenks brings some happy seriousness as the encouraging taxi driver, and Alice Brady is fabulous, darling as the rather thoughtless Mrs. Frost. Leopold Stokowski is a surprisingly good actor for a conductor. I have seen other real-life conductors/musicians/dancers in movies, and they are often not convincing, but Stokowski was a good actor as well as being a wonderful conductor.

The story was good. It brought the plight of people out of work because of the Depression into the forefront. It showed the good people who wanted to work, but just couldn’t find anything. It also showed the thoughtlessness of the rich. Mrs. Frost makes an impulsive promise to a young girl, then promptly forgets about it and goes out of town. She doesn’t really care about Patricia; she sees Patricia as something interesting and new in her dull, expensive life. The wealthy men who play practical jokes on each other are just as bad. While the poor are playing poker using matchsticks, these rich men bet significant amounts of money on who has the better joke. It idealizes the honest poor while uncovering the faults of the uncaring rich.

The music was awesome. I’m not sure how it was nominated for original score; most of the music was classical music. But it was amazing. I would have given them an award for best use of classical music in a musical score. The music person (not sure who it was, because there’s not really a credit for it) matched the classical music to the action perfectly. I’ve never seen it done better.

 The Bad: As talented as Deanna Durbin is with both singing and acting, she has no talent for lip-syncing. By saying she’s lip-syncing, I in no way mean to imply that she is not doing her own singing. She’s just lip-syncing to her own pre-recorded singing. And she’s bad at it. At first I just thought the audio was off, but no. It’s Deanna Durbin.

Both Patricia and her father are constantly trying to get past the doorman at the theater where Stokowski works. It gets old after a bit. Repeated jokes are not as funny as people think they are.

Why do I call One Hundred Men and a Girl cute? Because it’s a well-done, happy movie with not much depth. It’s too simplistic to be anything but cute. It’s a movie you would watch when you’re feeling down and don’t want to think too much. It’s fun, but not extraordinary. It’s just…cute.

The Ugly: There is nothing ugly about this movie. It’s too cute to be ugly.

Oscar Won: Best music, score.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best writing, original story; best sound, recording; best film editing.

The Awful Truth (1937)

awful-truth

This is not the picture that steered me away from the movie. This one is much more fun!

The Awful Truth
Directed by Leo McCarey

I love old movies. I love Cary Grant. I love light-hearted comedies. Even though The Awful Truth fits all of those criteria, I had never wanted to see it. Why? The cover of the DVD that we have at my local library looks like it’s a musical. I couldn’t fathom Cary Grant in a musical; it made me uncomfortable. If it hadn’t been nominated for best picture, I never would have watched it. I would have missed out on a great movie.

So what’s the story? Married couple Lucy and Jerry Warriner have a silly misunderstanding and decided to get divorced. The divorce is granted, but they must wait three months for the divorce to be final. During these three months, both Lucy and Jerry date new people, but they both do everything they can to disrupt the other’s new relationships.

The Good: ASTA!!!! He may have been a dog, but Asta was a minor Hollywood star in the 1930s and 1940s, appearing with such stars as William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Katharine Hepburn. Not only is he adorable, he’s very well-trained. He’s also charming, which I didn’t realize a dog could be, but Asta is.

Asta’s human costars are wonderful, too, even if they aren’t as cute as he is. Although he plays Jerry Warriner with his characteristic suavity, Cary Grant also imbues his character with an inner delight in life. Irene Dunne’s Lucy is full of (justifiably) wounded pride; Dunne draw on this pride to explain both her rebound “love” and her fiendish delight in ruining Jerry’s new relationship. Of course, it’s expected that Dunne and Grant will be good; they weren’t famous just for their good looks. The totally unexpected performance came from Cecil Cunningham, who plays Lucy’s sardonic aunt, Patsy (or Patty; both were used in the movie). I had never heard of her before, but she is hilarious in this movie. She brings good, solid common sense into a screwball situation, letting both main characters know that they are being completely ridiculous.

The costumes and sets are gorgeous. The dresses are beautiful, and it was impossible for me to not admire the furs, even though I am anti-fur. Combined with the sparkling wit of the screenplay, The Awful Truth makes me wish that I were a wealthy person in the 1930s. It’s an impossible wish, I suppose, but it would be fun.

Leo McCarey’s direction was excellent. I don’t write often about whether or not I think the director did a good job, but that’s because I don’t know enough about directing to know how much of a part the director actually plays. I read a little bit about this movie, however, and apparently McCarey would tell people to not follow the script, to just say what they thought their character would say. He looked at things happening around him and encouraged the actors to do things on the set in character when they thought they weren’t being filmed, then used those almost candid scenes in the movie. It worked perfectly in a screwball comedy and added to the realism of the characters.

The Bad: The ending, which uses a cuckoo clock as a symbol, is ridiculous. I’m guessing that the director used it because of the Hays Code, which forbade any “indecency” in motion pictures, but I think this ending went too far in its pursuit to avoid being censored and just ended up being stupid.

The Ugly: There’s a little tiny bit of racial stereotyping, which was unfortunately common in movies from this time.

Oscars Won: Best director.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Irene Dunne); best actor in a supporting role (Ralph Bellamy); best writing, screenplay; best film editing.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

heaven_can_waitHeaven Can Wait
Directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry

Heaven Can Wait is the only movie from 1978 that I was familiar with before this project of mine, and by “familiar with,” I mean I have it practically memorized. This is another movie that I grew up, one that my dad would play over and over again while he was working at home. It’s both easier and harder to analyze a movie that you’re familiar with. On one hand, because you know the plot so well, you can concentrate more on the film elements. On the other hand, it’s sad when you find flaws in a movie you know so well. When I do find things that are less than perfect, I just have to remind myself that I can still enjoy an imperfect movie.

So what’s the story? Los Angeles Rams quarterback Joe Pendleton has been working hard to get back in the game after a bad knee injury. Just as he is getting back in shape, Joe is killed in a bike accident. When he shows up in the afterlife, however, he finds that he wasn’t supposed to die for another fifty years. Mr. Jordan, the angelic supervisor, offers to put Joe back into his body, but unfortunately, Joe’s body has already been cremated. Joe and Mr. Jordan look at several new bodies, Joe insisting that the new body be in good enough shape to play for the Rams. When Joe spots beautiful Betty Logan, he decides to accept the body of ruthless business mogul Mr. Farnsworth so that he can help Miss Logan out. Will Joe ever make it back to the Rams? Will Betty be able to look past Mr. Farnsworth’s terrible reputation to see Joe inside? Will Mr. Farnsworth’s scheming wife and his private secretary murder him before Joe has a chance to find happiness?

The Good: The screenplay is fun and funny. Joe gets himself into funny situations, which are often met with dry humor or great one-liners from the other characters. The people in Mr. Farnsworth’s life aren’t used to working with a young quarterback, and their reactions to some of Joe’s requests are priceless.

The sets are excellent. Joe ends up in three very different places: his little house where he lives as a football player, the waystation to his final destination, and Leo Farnsworth’s mansion. Each one is very different, and each reflects the person who lives there. It’s a subtle thing that helps to develop the characters.

Heaven Can Wait is a movie in which the supporting actors do a better job than the leads. Jack Warden shows a great range of emotions as Joe’s friend and trainer, Max; he’s happy when Joe overcomes his injury, devastated when Joe dies, disbelieving when Mr. Farnsworth tells Max that he (Mr. Farnsworth) is really Joe. Warden does all that and more perfectly. Mr. Farnsworth’s scheming, hysterical, alcoholic wife, Julia is played to perfection by Dyan Cannon. Charles Grodin is her perfect counterpart as the scheming, yet calm, personal secretary Tony Abbott. Joseph Maher is hilarious as Sisk, the very proper butler who deals with his employer’s new personality with complete aplomb. I’ve always loved the nameless angel who takes Joe out of his body too soon and then throws a fit when Joe won’t believe he’s dead. It turns out that the angel is played by Buck Henry, who is also the co-director of the movie. Too fun! And the calm, stately Mr. Jordan, the angelic supervisor, the played by the great James Mason. The casting of the supporting cast was perfectly done.

The costuming was also very good. The ugly jackets that Max wears, Julia’s over-the-top designer dresses, and Leo Farnsworth’s ridiculous sailing outfits that he wears even though he doesn’t sail all add another dimension to the character’s personalities.

If there were a category for best use of classical music in a movie, I would give the Oscar to Heaven Can Wait. The scene where Joe and Max try to get Farnsworth’s body into pro football shape using the servants as players is great by itself, but the musical accompaniment of Handel’s Sonata #3 makes the scene brilliant. It might be my favorite part of the whole movie.

The Bad: While the original musical score isn’t bad, the instrumentation is dated. Just like in An Unmarried Woman, there is too much saxophone. While it could be a subtle reference to Joe and his badly-played soprano sax, it didn’t age well.

The Ugly: When I was little, I always thought Julie Christie’s hair style was ugly. When I watched it this time, I decided I would be open-minded about her hair. Apparently, it’s ugly no matter how old you are.

Because they are souls without bodies, Mr. Jordan and Joe can walk through walls. The editing for the wall-walking is terrible. My nine-year-old niece literally does better editing on her dad’s smartphone. Yes, technology has changed over time, but there is no excuse for the bad effects.

The copy of Heaven Can Wait that my family had when I was young was copied from TV onto a video that wasn’t long enough, so I haven’t seen the ending as often as I’ve seen the rest of the movie. I’m okay with that, though, because I’m not fond of the ending. It goes on too long, and Joe doesn’t get a very good deal at the end. (Because I don’t do spoilers, I won’t say what bothers me specifically, but if you want to argue that the ending is perfect, we can do so in the comments.)

As I watched the movie this time around, I realized that there is a major plot hole. If the angels know the exact date that someone is going to die, why would they send an angel out to collect his soul at the wrong time? Don’t get me wrong; I still love the plot, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the premise is logically wrong.

The worst thing about Heaven Can Wait is that it is a very obvious vanity project for Warren Beatty. Near the beginning, Joe (who is played by Warren Beatty) says something about how he’s old in the football business, but in any other field, he would just be getting started. At that point, I realized how old Beatty looks in the movie. I checked his age, and he would have been 41 when he made the film. There aren’t very many forty-one-year-old NFL players, and most of them are kickers. Starting quarterbacks that old are few and far between. If the character was supposed to be 41, he wouldn’t be young in another field. Even setting aside the age issue, Joe is just too good to be true. He’s a not-too-bright football player, but he is able to spontaneously come up with brilliant, profitable business ideas that none of the experienced businessmen in Farnsworth’s firm have ever thought of before. Women fall in love with him quickly and with flimsy reasons. In addition to that, he’s a great quarterback. His only fault seems to be his inability to play the soprano sax. This is why I feel that Warren Beatty’s acting is not the best; he’s basically playing himself.

Oscar Won: Best art direction-set decoration.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Warren Beatty); best actor in a supporting role (Jack Warden); best actress in a supporting role (Dyan Cannon); best director; best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium; best cinematography; best music, original score.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

silver linings playbookDirected by David O. Russell

I’ve mentioned before that I have mental health issues; depression is what I have to put up with. It’s not fun, and it’s not easy. It has been especially hard in the past because mental illnesses aren’t something you talk about. If you tell someone you have cancer or diabetes, they will sympathize with you, whereas there are still people out there who don’t believe that depression is a real thing. “Just look on the bright side,” they say. “Go running. Eat better. You’re just feeling down.” But people who are just having a bad day don’t seriously fantasize about slitting their wrists or driving their car off a cliff. They haven’t written letters to their families explaining why they felt the need to do this. People who are just feeling down don’t skip their favorite activity of the year for which they have VIP passes because they are crying all day for no particular reason and can’t stop. They don’t sit and think about how worthless they are and how no one really would miss them if they were gone and how their pets would really be happier with another family anyway. Yes, everyone has off days now and then, but for me, those things were my reality. Every. Single. Day. Now that I’ve found an antidepressant that works for me, those things are thankfully not a part of my life as often as they were, but this is why I appreciate movies like Silver Linings Playbook that bring to life people struggling with real issues that are so misunderstood. It’s also why I started this movie three or four times before I could actually watch it all the way through and why I still wouldn’t have seen it if it weren’t for my medication. It’s too real and too painful, too hard to watch when I wasn’t doing well. Sorry for the very long ramble, but it’s a subject close to my heart and I apparently had a lot to say about it.

So what’s the story? Pat Salitano has just been released from a mental institution after fulfilling a court-ordered eight month stint there. He is determined to get his life back to normal and win back his ex-wife, Nikki, who has not only left him, but gotten a restraining order against him. He meets a young woman named Tiffany who wants him to join a dance contest with her. Hoping that this will show Nikki that he has turned his life around, Pat agrees.

The Good: The acting was wonderful. Bradley Cooper as Pat, Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, and Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as Pat’s parents were amazing. I loved the subtle hints in Robert De Niro’s acting and character that showed that he, too, was dealing with mental health issues, although they were undiagnosed in his case. I thought that casting grumpy-faced Julia Stiles in the part of Veronica, a woman not really satisfied with anything, was brilliant, and I also liked John Oritz in the role of Ronnie, Veronica’s husband.

The music fit the movie perfectly, just kind of laid-back piano and guitar music. Nothing overblown or loud or fancy, because the story isn’t any of those things. It’s a small, intimate story about people working through their problems and finding out that when dreams die, it’s okay to find new ones.

I liked the screenplay. It made all the characters very real, not caricatures of people with mental illness. Or of people living in Philadelphia, for that matter. It helped make the people come alive. I appreciated, too, the humor in the screenplay. Yes, mental illnesses are serious, but funny, random things happen to everyone, regardless of their health. Also, I have felt the same way as Pat about Hemingway (and other authors) at times, so I loved that someone finally said it.

The Bad: I don’t really have anything to complain about here. I really liked the movie, except for two issues that were so bad for me that they have to go in the ugly category.

The Ugly: The age difference between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper bothered me throughout the entire movie. I didn’t know at the time what the age difference was, but I would have put Pat at 42 and Tiffany around 23 just looking at them. There is really only a fifteen year age gap between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, but still. It felt kind of icky to me. While Jennifer Lawrence did a fabulous job, I would have been happier with someone a little older.

I would have been fine with it, though, except for the ending.  (SPOILER ALERT) I talked myself into being okay with the age gap because they were just friends, two people who were dealing with similar issues. Age isn’t as big an issue there. But then they were shown being in love and having a relationship, and I didn’t like that. It didn’t seem to fit the movie. I really, really wanted them to just stay friends. I wanted them to each know that they had someone they could depend on who understood them, but somehow by having them fall in love, it cheapened the movie for me. That ending made it seem that unless a man and a woman fall in love, their relationship is pointless. The movie became just another romantic comedy instead of a comedy about people dealing realistically with mental issues, and that bothered me. Silver Linings Playbook is still worth watching, but it became less meaningful to me personally.

Oscars Won: Best performance by an actress in a leading role (Jennifer Lawrence).

Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); best performance by an actor in a supporting role (Robert De Niro); best performance by an actress in a supporting role (Jacki Weaver); best achievement in directing; best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in film editing.