WW II, horror, musicals and adventure: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

THEIR FINEST (2016) stars Gemma Arterton as a British government worker who stumbles into scriptwriting for a morale-boosting WW II film (“It hits the nail on the head — authenticity, optimism and a dog!”) only to face a barrage of problems including disgruntled aging actor Bill Nighy, a straying lover, an annoying male colleague and American marketing (“To succeed over there it needs more — oomph.”). Very charming, even if one tragic moment felt a bit forced — and I don’t buy a lesbian being so “out” while in government service (she admits her orientation quite casually). “Don’t say it’s based on a true story — say it’s based on a hundred true stories!”

RED, WHITE, BLACK AND BLUE (2006) is a documentary about the Battle of Attu during WW II in which fresh-faced recruits (“I kept staring up at the Golden Gate Bridge as we passed under it.”) found themselves fighting off the Japanese occupation of one of the Aleutian Islands, with brutal weather and muddy terrain proving as formidable as the enemy. This look back was framed around the 2002 60th anniversary reunion of the veterans, which lead into other issues such as one man’s angry crusade against a Japanese memorial to the dead of both sides at the site. The special features included a newsreel about battle and a Private Snafu cartoonabout life in the Aleutians. Worth catching. “That’s the worst nightmare for an infantry commander — the enemy has the high ground 100 percent of the time.”

OCULUS (2013) is a forgettable horror story in which a newly released mental patient is horrified sister Karen Gillan still clings to their childhood delusion that an accursed mirror turned their dad into a murderer, while Gillan is just as infuriated to hear him explain the Obviously Supernatural with psychobabble. Ho-hum formula film. “There is no scientific term equivalent to ‘haunted.’”

After our Thanksgiving dinner I watched THE BAND WAGON (1953) a classic backstage musical in which aging hoofer Fred Astaire and young ballerina Cyd Charisse become adversaries when cast as the leads of a Broadway show, but their relationship is less of a problem than deranged director Jack Buchanan reworking the frothy script into a modern retelling of Faust (given repeated declarations that as Buchanan’s a genius, naturally he doesn’t need experience directing musicals, I wonder if they had a particular director in mind as the model). The book American Film Musical points out this fits the classic backstage-musical structure, where the thawing of the leads to each other mirrors the show finally coming together; the book argues the subtext is also a defense of the musical against those who think the genre is hopelessly old-fashioned. Great fun in any case, with lots of great numbers (though it’s hard to imagine how “Louisiana Hayride” fits into stage show), particularly the classic climactic number “Girl Hunt” (Charisse playing the Very Bad Girl in that part makes Singing in the Rain the logical double-bill). With Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant as the playwrights. “Did you ever try to spread ideals on a cracker?”

ROMANCING THE STONE (1984) was LeAnn’s pick for after-feasting and while I was too busy reading to pay a lot of attention it was charming as always, as Kathleen Taylor finds herself forced to live a life of adventure, a drug kingpin meets his favorite author, Danny deVito wonders why it has to be crocodiles and Michael Douglas gets some new boots. “At least I’m not romancing the stone like he is!”

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