Movies I’ve Recently Seen: More FilmStruck binge watching

With Thanksgiving finished, I had a chance to watch more movies before FilmStruck goes away. Only three more days left in the best streaming service ever.

Being There (1979), FilmStruck

Peter Sellers gave the best performance of his life as Chance, the Gardener (AKA Chauncey Gardner), a mentally deficient TV addict who knows only about horticulture. An accident brings him into the halls of wealth and power, where his idiotic comments are interpreted as sage advice, courageous honesty, or brilliant wit. As leaders of government and business fawn on him, he becomes a major celebrity. All the while he just glides along, unknowing of what’s happening all around him. Also starring Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas.

Tampopo (1985), FilmStruck

Decades before movies about chefs and cooking became a thing (and my least-favorite arthouse genre), Tampopo put a comic twist on movies about chefs.  In doing so, the movie also parodies westerns and material arts flicks. The title character, a young widow with a son to raise, struggles with her hole-in-the-wall ramen café until two truck drivers help her create the greatest ramen ever. The movie occasionally cuts away to comic scenes not connected to the story, except that they’re all another food.  Very funny, extremely silly, and occasionally sexy.

A- The Shop Around the Corner (1940), FilmStruck

Ernst Lubitsch mixes drama into this romantic comedy set in a Budapest store. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play employees who hate each other in person, but as pen pals, they’re in love. The film has a serious adultery subplot, which is surprising, since Lubitsch generally treated adultery as fun and games and no big deal. But you never quite believe that Stewart and Sullavan are Hungarian. The movie was remade at least twice, as In the Good Old Summertime (1949, see below) and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

B+ Dangerous Liaisons (1988), FilmStruck

This period drama set amongst 18th-century French aristocrats may help you understand why the peasants would soon chop off these people’s heads. Glenn Close and John Malkovich play scheming ex-lovers out to make several people miserable for fun and revenge. It’s all about sex, of course, tricking people into life-ruining affairs. The victims include Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, and a very bland Keanu Reeves. Beautifully mounted, as any movie about French aristocrats should be.

D+ In the Good Old Summertime (1949), FilmStruck

When it comes to delivering comic dialog, Van Johnson is no James Stewart. This musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, set in early 20th-century Chicago, rarely succeeds in being funny. Even Judy Garland, who knew how to coax a laugh, doesn’t show that talent here. Maybe the fault goes to director Robert Z. Leonard, who was not known for comedy. There’s one very funny slapstick scene early on, allegedly written and directed by Buster Keaton, who’s mostly wasted in a supporting role. The movie is supposed to be a musical, but songs are scarce, and almost nothing in the film is set in the summer time.

Cimarron (1931), FilmStruck

This epic western, which spans over 40 years, forces you to ask how did this mess win Best Picture? Richard Dix doesn’t so much talk as proclaim. The episodic story goes nowhere. The action scenes, some of which are pretty good, are all in the first half. The movie attempts to say something anti-racist but confuses the message with stereotypes. On the plus side, it’s an impressive production with huge, realistic sets and beautiful photography. Irene Dunne plays a meek but bigoted wife who turns into a progressive congresswoman proud of her mixed-race grandchildren, but we never really see how she changes.

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