Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Big Chill | The Man Who Would Be King | Island of Lost Souls | Gretchen the Greenhorn & The Good German

It’s amazing I’ve been seeing so few movies recently, aside from those I reviewed for the Mill Valley Film Festival. But I managed these four.

A- The Big Chill (1983)

A group of baby boomers, now coming into their 30s, come together for a funeral. They were all radical activists back in the day; now they’ve forgotten their idealism and are either filthy rich or financially just getting by. Yes, Lawrence Kasdan stole the concept from John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus 7, but the Chill is the better film. That shouldn’t be a surprise – Kasdan had a studio budget and a cast that contained Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hurt, and JoBeth Williams.

B+ The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

John Huston creates an old-fashioned, rousing, very British adventure based on a story by Rudyard Kipling. The star wattage of Sean Connery and Michael Caine adds luster to this story of two crooks who set out to enter a mythic land with intentions with intentions of extreme wealth. Of course, not everything goes as plans. The movie is a bit racist, but this sort of story almost always is. It also shows off sweeping vistas, beautiful scenery, and two likeable criminals who inevitably will fail. Huston’s last great quest film.

B The Island of Lost Souls (1932)

This early Paramount horror film, based on a story by H.G. Wells, relies almost entirely through its atmosphere. You’ve got fog, an alcoholic ship captain, the strange island of the title, and a group of creatures that are half-men/half-animal. And, of course, there’s Charles Laughton as the most courteous mad doctor in the history of Hollywood mad doctors. And then, of course, there’s the Panther Woman. A short and entertaining horror movie.

C Gretchen the Greenhorn (1916)

This early feature staring Dorothy Gish (Lillian’s sister) is more interesting as a piece of history then a piece of entertainment. For instance, a wedding scene is barely lit, and the camera work and editing are very primitive. Also, Gretchen’s Irish and Italian neighbors are treated as people; not so with the Chinese and African-Americans. Gretchen immigrates from Holland to New York (her father is already there), where she befriends the other immigrants living in her tenement building. Of course, there’s a villain, played by Eugene Pallette when he was thin.

D The Good German (2006)

A very good director (Steven Soderbergh) and some great stars (George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire, Beau Bridges), and the movie still falls flat in just about every way it can. Set in occupied Berlin just after the war, the plot doesn’t mean much; the same holds true for the characters. Clooney fails to make you believe that he smokes; but he makes a believable punching bag – he gets beaten up repeatedly. The black and white atmosphere is so thick it’s ridiculous. And it ends with a ridiculous tribute to Casablanca.