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As of 5:18 am this morning, I've survived three decades. Go me.
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T-6 days.
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1947: Gentleman's Agreement

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

A widowed reporter, newly moved to New York City with his mother and his son, is given an assignment to write an article on anti-semitism. After agonizing on how he can write anything interesting or new on the subject, he decides to go undercover as a Jew, and hopefully experience anti-semitism first hand. Since he's newly moved to NYC, no one knows of his background, and the ruse is pretty easy to keep up.

Of course, he begins to experience various forms of anti-semitism, but most trying for him is the subtle ways in which the girl he meets (who he shares the secret with), despite seemingly being quite literal and anti-anti-semitic on the surface, subtle acquiesces to bigotry in other ways, including her desire not to challenge the eponymous gentleman's agreement about not renting or selling real-estate to Jews where her house is, in Darien, Connecticut.

This film was quite eye-opening for me. While of course things are made dramatic for film, and it deals solely with upper-class anti-semitism, I had no idea this existed at all. Gentleman's agreements, "restricted" hotels, epithets I had never heard and only had been vaguely aware of, etc. Apparently the film was quite controversial at the time, and the producer, director, and some of the actors being called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (what an Orwellian name...), and due to their refusal to testify*, the actors ended up on the Hollywood Blacklist.

The movie was quite enjoyable, and all though overly dramatic and narrow in it's treatment of anti-semitism, the anger he feels is palpable, and the tension he has with his fiancé over her tacit bigotry is very well rendered. I'm glad I saw this film.

*: Or refused to answer a question about whether they are or were a part of the Communist Party, according to one source I read. Wow, times were different then.
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1944: Going My Way

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

Going My Way

Set in Manhattan in an impoverished neighborhood, Bing Crosy plays a Catholic priest sent to the parish to try to help the local aging father get the church on its feet, which is fairly dire financial straits and is danger of foreclosure.

Despite a few missteps at the start, he managed to use his charm and musicianship to convince the neighborhood boys/troublemakers to form a choir, help the locals with their problems, and get things on track, only to be terribly derailed near the end, due to factors beyond his control.

It's a fairly light drama, with comedic and musical moments, but is quite touching and charming. The interplay between the new modern priest (Bing) and the established aging traditional priest is both wonderful and amusing.

The film went on that year to win 6 additional awards besides Best Picture, including Best Actor for Bing Crosby, and Best Supporting Actor for Barry Fitzgerald, who plays the older father.

This is the first film I've seen with Bing Crosby, and he does make for a pretty compelling presence. I, ever naive, had not been aware of his film career, knowing him only for some of his music. Apparently, he was one of the most popular actors in the 40s, and with his handsomeness and charm, I can see sort of see why.

While I thought the film was quite lovely and an enjoyable watch, I'm not sure I see it as a Seven Oscar sort of film.
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1929: The Broadway Melody

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

This is the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the first sound film to do so. (1928's Wings, which I have not watched yet, was first, and silent.) The historical context of this film is interesting. The first feature length sound film ('talkies') was released in 1927, and the film world was in the midst of the chaos of the switch. Silent movies were originally considered more artistic (getting across concepts without the benefit of speech or synchronized sound is certainly a different art-form more akin to stage acting than the realism we tend to expect in films these days), and sound films were thought to be a passing fad. And well into the thirties, talkies were often released in a silent-film version as well for all the theatres that had not yet converted.

So, being one of the first 'talkies' during this chaos, this film falls kind of flat to modern eyes and ears. As the name alludes to, this is a musical, and this helps makes the ridiculousness and emotional overacting feel a little less out of place.

The storyline follows two sisters (Hank and Queenie), who have come to New York to try to make it on Broadway, having been a moderately successful vaudeville sister act1 in their home town. With the help of Hank's boyfriend Eddie (a song and dance composer) they get a job with a Mr. Zanfield (an allusion to Ziegfeld, I'm sure). Eddie begins to fall in love with Queenie (the younger sister, who has filled out nicely since he last saw her, apparently). Queenie tries to fend off Eddie's advances, not wanting to hurt her sister, and so dates a man that neither Hank or Eddie approves of. Love-triangle and musical hijinx ensue.

The film was still enjoyable, despite it's ridiculous and (now) tired premise. I did find it interesting in the historical context, not only the above silent/sound film transition, but the 20s slang, women who universally had the bob hair-cut, and the occasional skyline shot.

1: Before this movie, I had never heard this term used seriously before.
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1943: Casablanca

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

So, Casablanca. This film is known as an American classic, and long before I had ever seen this film I had heard some of the pop-culture quotes that it generated, such as "Here's looking at you, kid.", and possibly "Play it, Sam". It's also the first of these movies that I've seen before: a few years back the City of Waterloo played this movie for a surprisingly well-attended Movies in the Park. Due to the environment and noise, I was a little unclear about the ending when I saw it then.

I felt it was a little weak for being as revered as it is. It's certainly not a bad a movie, and I was entertained, amused, and even touched at parts.

The movie is set during World War II in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, where French refugees have fled from Occupied France, many in the hope of escaping to Lisbon, where they could then fly on to the United States. Rick, an expat American runs his "Rick's Café Americain", a fairly upscale establishment with entertainment and gambling and various shady goings-on. Ilsa, an old lover of his from Paris from before the occupation arrives at the café with her husband, Laszlo, a Czech resistance leader, not knowing Rick is even in Casablanca. They are looking for certain documents that will allow them to leave for Lisbon, which Rick has unwittingly come into. Tensions are tense, revelations are revealed, and antagonists antagonize.

While the tension and romance of Rick and Ilsa (and Laszlo) is charming, the corrupt official Captain Renault provides a clever and witty foil, and much of the film is better for his inclusion.

In sum, entertaining, but not fantastic, but worth seeing just to know what the fuss is (or isn't!) about.
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1941: How Green Was My Valley

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

Unfortunately, it's been a couple weeks since I've watched this, so I've begun to forget the details. This film, also based on a book, chronicles the life of a Welsh coalmining family, as their way of life begins to fall apart through unionization, strikes, and their culture declining, around the turn of the 20th century.

The story is told through the eyes of the youngest son, Huw, and is about him and his family who all live in a small village in a valley in Wales, whose primary economy is based on the nearby coalmine. His older brothers and his father all work in the coalmine, but tensions begin to build as their wages are cut and thoughts of unionization begin to take hold, dividing the family. Eventually the workers strike, which begins the slow downturn of the village.

However, the movie isn't really about the labour issues, it is more about the family and their personal trials and tribulations, and the emotions and intensity with which they face them. Starting with the sons and the father first disagreeing about the unionization, then with the sons, one by one, getting laid off and moving away, his sister abandoning her forbidden romance with the town's priest and marrying into the coal-mine's owner family, and Huw attending school1, the first in his family to do so.

The movie is emotionally poignant, and you really do feel for this family. The characters are quite believable, with a particularly enjoyable performance in the mother, a strong matronly figure with a sharp wit, and the town feels believable2.

Pretty good movie, but certainly not the best of the bunch.



1: Some particularly amusing moments occur during his school preparation where he and the priest are doing some basic math, asking about how long it would take to fill a tub with a certain amount of water entering, and with a hole which a certain amount of water leaves. His mother, being ever practical, is in complete disbelief about the utility of a tub with a hole in it and considers the question preposterous.

2: Which is quite amazing, since it was filmed in California, due to the sudden unavailability of Wales (due to the war).
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It looks like music games (Rock Band) is a go for tonight,if anyone wants to drop by after dinner (7-8 pm). Update: from now until 9 pm, due to something coming up afterwards.

There's been a bit of interest for conventional games tomorrow, so if I get more than 2 or 3 people expressing interest, than that'll be a go for tomorrow afternoon (2 pm?)... Cancelled due to plague.
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1940: Rebecca

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

This movie definitely has a different flavour then the others I've watched so far, being more of a psychological movie than the previous ones. It is based on a book by one Daphne du Maurier, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and produced by David O. Selznick, who had also produced the previous years winner, Gone With The Wind.

The young unnamed narrator, on a trip to Monte Carlo as a companion to Ms. Van Hopper, a wealthy but unpleasant American, meets the widower Maxim de Winter, and falls in love with him over the next few weeks, while Ms. Van Hopper is laid up in bed with the flu.

Ms. Van Hopper receives a letter that her daughter is engaged, and makes haste to travel to New York. The narrator is distraught about leaving, and the aritocratic Maxim proposes to her, which she accepts, and becomes the new Mrs. de Winter.

Mrs. de Winter moves in with Maxim at his Estate, Manderly, and the main part of the story unfolds. The title character, Rebecca, is Maxim's late wife, and her memory pervades the estate, and begins to colour her interactions in the house, with the staff, family, and Maxim.

More intrigue unfolds, and I found the movie quite fascinating. The extent to which Rebecca has influence while never actually appearing in the movie and being quite dead is fantastic, and never feels force. The ending is not happy, but does offer a strange sense of closure to the film. All in all, I quite enjoyed it, and though it is not spectacular in any way, I feel it is one of stronger films in this collection to date.
Nov. 5th, 2009 11:18 am

Snow!

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Ewww, that looks an awful lot like snow outside. Very wet snow.
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1936: The Great Ziegfeld

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

Another somewhat fictionalized autobiographical film, this is a musical (rather long &emdash; three hours) chronicling the life of Florenz Ziegfeld from his start exhibiting the strongman Sandow in the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 to his very successful runs of extravagant musicals, Ziegfeld Follies, and his veentual death in 1932, just a few short years before this movie was produced.

He is depicted as a talented producer, alternating between wealth and near-bankruptcy, and as quite a ladies man, and his relationships with Anna Held and Billie Burke.

The film itself is mostly a display of many of his famous musical productions, which are quite impressive for the time. As I was watching it, I was struck by how lavish and over-the-top these productions were, and how they've been parodied ever since. For example, there's a number closing out the first half of the film which shows a slowly rotating spiraling staircase, with men in top hats standing on the stairs, and dozens of dancing women, which I suppose is now a bit of a trope and object of parody, but this may have been where it started.

All in all, very glamorous, but I found it somewhat boring as the focus is not the plot, but the musical productions. The second half with the intrigue of his breakup with Anna Held and his subsequent relationship with Billie Burke, and the failure of his shows during the Great Depression and his death add some plot and excitement and help bring the movie together.
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1937: The Life of Emile Zola

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

As a somewhat fictionalized biographical film, this film starts out somewhat slowly and weakly, chronicling the life of French author Émile Zola, in the latter half of the 19th century.

Starting out as a starving author in Paris, with his flatmate Paul Cézanne, his rise to fame is depicted, becoming a wealthy, respected, and influential author.

The latter half of the film centers on Zola's involvement in the Dreyfuss Affair, a political scandal involving the military and the wrongful imprisonment of a certain Alfred Dreyfus, who was convicted of treason sentenced to solitary life imprisonment off the coast of French Guiana for allegedly leaking military secrets.

Zola goes onto condemn the French Government in his famous open letter J'accuse in a newspaper, and is then tried for libel.

Without giving away the entire movie, the latter half of the movie is quite good, centering on the miscarriages of justice and showing the corruption of the military and french government around the turn of the 20th century. The acting, in particular, is quite believable, and the actor chosen to play Zola bears a striking resemblance to the real Zola. This portion of the movie also appears to fairly true to reality in terms of the events, and makes for a an interesting pseudo-documentary of the times.
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I've been making an effort to clean the office today.

Things I have and want to get rid of:

DVD-ROM (IDE/PATA Slot Load) - Free to a good home. Worked last time I used it (which admitted was a long time ago)
802.11G PCI (Desktop) Wireless Card - $25. Bought a few months ago, used once
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1934: It Happened One Night

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

This one might be the least flashy of the movies I've watched so far, but still quite entertaining. The basic plot is a romantic comedy, and follows the pampered daughter, Ellie, as she tries to escape from her father to be with her love, King, who her father does not approve of.

She escapes from their yacht in Miami, and attempts to head home to new York to be with King, which she does by taking a Greyhound, and evading his detectives on the way. At the beginning of her trip, she meets up with an out-of-work newspaper reporter, Peter, who helps her stay hidden in exchange for the story. They end up falling in love, antics and hardships occur, things almost fall apart, etc. etc.

This was the first movie to win all of the big 5 Academy Awards (Best Actor, Actress, Picture, Director, Screenplay), which is actually quite amazing given the conditions it was made under. It wasn't a huge budget film, and it was filmed in only a month as Claudette Colbert (Ellie) had a vacation planned. She also thought the movie was terrible, but a great chemistry between Claudette and Clark Gable (Peter) develops, and despite the limited budget, they do really well with what they have. Apparently it wasn't originally a huge critical success either.

There are parts that are hilariously funny (the mock old-married-couple-fight in the cottage, the hitchhiking scenes). Quite entertaining!


Interestingly, a movie I watched just recently, Changeling, which takes place in 1934 mentions this film, and it was interestingly coincidental that this was the film zip.ca sent me next.

Next up is 1936's 3 hour musical, The Great Ziegfeld, which might stretch my attention span. :)
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1935: Mutiny On The Bounty

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

I watched this several weeks ago, and put off writing about it. This is in a heat with Cimmaron for the weakest Best Picture so far. However, as this movie is based on a true story, it is neat from a historical perspective.


It is indeed about a mutiny that occurs on the ship The Bounty in the late 18th century. A ship is sent to Tahiti (shown to be a wondrous paradise) to retrieve breadfruit trees to be planted in the Carribean, to be fed to slaves, apparently. The Captain, William Bligh, is shown to be unjust and cruel, and on the way back Fletcher Christian (played by Clark Gable) leads a mutiny against him, and he is sent floating in a life boat far away from any Port of Call. The mutineers can't go home (they'll be killed), so they settle in Tahiti.

Miraculously, Captain Bligh survives and makes it back to England, and leads an expedition back to Tahiti to capture the mutineers. They see him coming, and hightail it out of there in the night, and end up scuttling their boat and settling on the remote and nearly inaccessible Pitcairn Island.




The neat thing is that the mutineers descendants still live on Pitcairn Island, and because of it's remoteness, they are somewhat inbred, have a unique language, and tourism is nearly nonexistent (there are no airports, and there is no sea port either, goods are brought in by longboat).

So, the story is interesting historically, although the events portrayed in the film are highly fictionalized, the basic events (trip to tahiti for trees, mutiny, settling of pitcairn island) are real.

I found the story does drag on somewhat in the interests of characterization and development, but that's true of a lot of the 30s films, which are richer (but slower) than many current films are.

Again, the film is good, but I would not say excellent, and interesting historically, but still I wouldn't recommend running out of one's way to go see it,
Jul. 22nd, 2009 10:39 am

22/7

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Happy Pi Approximation Day, everyone!!
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After our walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, we took the subway back to Manhattan, and headed to the Empire State Building, where I wanted to go to get some photos taken of the skyline at night. After lining up, queuing, line up some more, and queueing again, for a total of an hour or so, we finally got up to the observation deck, where I promptly pulled out my camera and mini-tripod and snapped views of every direction. Here's some of my favourites. The third last one has the Statue of Liberty in it.

The larger size versions are available at my facebook album. Unfortunately, FB resizes the pictures, so much of the fidelity of the original photos is gone. If there's interest, I can post larger versions somewhere.

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To those who celebrate, and happy making-it-through-half-the-year for those who don't :)
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1932: Grand Hotel

[Zip.ca] [IMDB] [Wikipedia]

People coming, going. Nothing ever happens declares the doctor at the beginning of this film. But that wouldn't be much of a movie, would it?

This movie appears to have popularized two different things: one, the plot device of having several unrelated characters in one setting and exploring the antics that befall them, and two, having an ensemble all-star cast.

Apparently, they were quite successful at the time, having won an academy award and bringing in oodles of money, and have been replicated over and over, so it doesn't seem original to modern eyes (my personal favourite of the unrelated characters being brought together device is Magnolia...). And because I've never seen them before, it doesn't have the star power for me that it had then (but it stars Drew Barrymore's grandfather, John. Heh!) Because of this, this movie doesn't seem to hold up quite as well as the other films I've reviewed thus far.

There's nothing really negative to say about the movie. The actors all have good performances (although, in a very 30s way; I quite enjoyed Joan Crawford as the stenographer, and John Barrymore as The Baron), the plot is interesting enough not to be boring and not too predictable, and the music is typical for the time. I laughed at the appropriate times, but otherwise there wasn't a large emotional pull or excitement to really pull it together to make it fantastic.

This is the raciest film of the early Academy Awards I've seen to date, and probably on the last for quite a while, as not long after Hollywood adopted the The Motion Picture Production Code, a set of self-imposed censorship guidelines, apparently to dodge government censorship. There's drunkenness, glamorization of gambling and thievery, lewdness, and suggestions of adultery, and these themes won't be seen much until the 60s, when the code is dropped in favour of the MPAA rating system.

So, summarized: good film, but wouldn't suggest going out of one's way to see it.
Jun. 22nd, 2009 09:05 pm

CF

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Any one local have a CompactFlash card of any capacity that I could borrow for a few days (and that you don't mind losing the data on :P)

Thanks!
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