theotterlimits

Otter's Eclectic Movie Reviews

Archive for the category “watched at home”

The Men who Stare at Goats

mengoats

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Loosely based on the book of the same name by Jon Ronson

Several men are involved in the US Army’s attempts to make new-age and paranormal abilities useful in spying and combat.

I was at the Red Cross to do Apheresis, which means a couple of hours with needles in my arms, and I was looking for something amusing to watch, and this caught my eye…and boy, was it ever amusing. I was laughing out loud and all the nurses were coming over to see what was so funny.

The cast is stellar- George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan MacGregor and Kevin Spacey. Ewan MacGregor is a reporter trying to find out about a program that was designed to teach soldiers (or spies) to use mind power for various things, including making an enemy’s heart stop by staring at them (they trained on goats, hence the title). He tracks down Clooney, Bridges and Spacey, all of whom have history with each other, and he is led on a chase from one place to another as he tries to find out the truth.

This was actually a gem-well written, funny, full of great details. The military background is hilarious, and Clooney is so deadpan it’s amazing.

Trust the otter- use your mental powers to track it down, you’ll be glad you did.

The Last Remake of Beau Geste

lastbeau

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Very loosely based on the novel Beau Geste by P. C. Wren

Two Englishmen end up in the French Foreign Legion because of the theft of a famous and valuable jewel.

Confession: I, the Otter, am a HUGE French Foreign Legion junkie. I have a couple of dozen books (plus just about everything P.C. Wren ever wrote, and I’m not kidding), and have seen all the movies and tv shows I can find on Le Légion étrangère. 

I saw this movie when it was new (a couple of times, I think, back when you had to see it when it was at a theater, because there was no way to watch it at home when you wanted to…yes, I’m old.) and I remember that it was hysterically funny. Now, there is a phenomenon which we Chez Otter call the “Caddyshack effect”, where you remember something you saw when young as being awesome and it isn’t when you see it twenty or thirty or forty years later…but I was willing to take the risk.

I saw this on Amazon.com, and bought it…and a bit later Mr. Otter and I watched it, with not a little trepidation on my part.

And it was fun. Silly 70s era fun, with a lot of good people (Michael York, Ann-Margret, Marty Feldman, and a host of people who were well-known then but not so much now) being pretty amusing. The plot was silly but good, and gave a couple of nods to the novel, and it was nice to see it again.

Not one of the funniest or best movies of all time, but certainly fun to watch, and (more importantly) not at all disappointing. Whew.

My Favorite Spy

spy

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A silly farce where things are lost and found, people are mistaken, and hijinks ensue.

It was December. We were making plans for our yearly New Year’s Day Videofest, and I had a list of movies starring Hedy Lamarr, because that was our theme for this year. Mr. Otter and I discussed possible movies, taking into account what was available on Netflix, at our local libraries, and things we could either buy cheaply or rent cheaply from Amazon. This movie streamed for free, and Mr. Otter said, Oh, I saw that when it was new, it was HILARIOUS. Great, I said, we don’t have any comedies, let’s go with that.

And we did. It was #6, after everyone else (Ottersis, mostly) had left, and we started watching it. And after a bit, Mr. Otter said, um.

Um? I said, something wrong?

Well, said Mr. Otter rather sheepishly, this isn’t the movie I was thinking of. I just remembered that the hilarious spy movie that I mixed up with this one was called Comrade X. I’ve never seen this one.

Um, I said…

But it was there and we watched it. Silly lightweight farce. Lamarr and Bob Hope were individually good but didn’t have much chemistry. The plot was heavy on slapstick and light on plot. It was okay but not great.

Um.

The Strange Woman

strangewoman

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Ben Williams.

A beautiful woman from out of town marries a wealthy merchant in 1820s New England…but also seduces his son and factory foreman. Things do not go well.

The New Year’s Day videofest was in session, and this year’s theme was Hedy Lamarr. This was our fifth movie, and it was okay, but there were parts that really made us roll our eyes.

Hedy was beautiful and believeable as the manipulative, self-centered girl who is trying to escape a life of poverty by marrying rich, but (not being satisfied with the quiet life she’s chosen) is looking for more on the side.

But some of the plot twists were just so ridiculous…like the scene from when she’s a kid, and pushes a boy who can’t swim into the river, and doesn’t rescue him til adults come by to see her do it…of course this boy is the son of the rich merchant she marries, and then she seduces him. That’s the kind of thing that had us saying, Nah! very loudly at the screen.

It wasn’t bad, just really unbelieveable in places…I don’t know if this was a faithful rendering of the novel, but the movie was only so-so.

Copper Canyon

copper

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Oh, you know, the bad guys are taking advantage of the miners in the small western town and the local beauty asks the guy for help and he doesn’t want to but he falls in love with her and takes care of business.

It was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and the theme was Hedy Lamarr. One of the reasons we chose her was that she made such a broad range of movies, especially this one, which is a western.

And- bonus!- it streamed for free. Now that all the video rental stores are gone, and Amazon and Netflix are going head-to-head, older movies are sometimes hard to find. We had to buy three of the movies we watched for this New Year’s Day fest, because they weren’t available anywhere.

So we watched it. We did take a short break in the middle when a couple of friends and their kids came over, but otherwise we paid attention.

And…it wasn’t bad. A typical late 40s/early 50s (1950, to be precise) western, with pretty scenery, a so-so plot with a couple of amusing parts, Hedy Lamarr looking gorgeous and acting fiesty, and Ray Milland cracking jokes and trying to act all aloof but he’s really taken with Hedy and if it means coming out of hiding and saving the town from the evil Yankees who are stealing from the peace-loving ex-Confederate miners (yup) then that’s what he’ll do.

A perfectly okay Western, totally watchable.

White Cargo

cargo

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book Hell’s Playground by Ida Vera Simonton and the play White Cargo by Leon Gordon.

Yes, this movie of which you’ve never heard was not only a bestselling book but a play on both the New York and London stages. Who knew?

So it was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and our theme this year was Hedy Lamarr. This was the second movie of the day, picked solely for the cheesiness of the title. And it was indeed cheesy.

The story is about being away from ‘civilization’ at a British-owned rubber plantation gruffly run by Walter Pidgeon. A new guy comes and Pidgeon gives him the talk about how he’ll go crazy too and everyone hates everyone there eventually and by the way DON’T mess around with the local girls. Which you know the new guy is going to do even though he says he won’t, because on the cover of the movie is Hedy Lamarr in slightly dark makeup and a skimpy outfit, saying, “I am Tondelayo!”

And of course everything goes wrong, and the new guy is carried home in a box. The story is told by the next guy who replaces him, who manages to stick it out and tells the story in flashback.

Evidently Tondelayo, in both the book and the play, is what they referred to in those days as a ‘negress’…this made the Hays office have kittens at the very thought, so that’s why Hedy Lamarr, as white as white can be, was put in makeup for the role. Bad enough to have sex alluded to in the movie, but INTERRACIAL sex? Never! even though of course that’s what this is all about.

A mediocre movie, fun to laugh at.

Tortilla Flat

tortilla

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

Based on the book Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

A group of happy-go-lucky guys in a small town on the California coast way back when there were sardine fisheries and everyone spoke with some kind of fake accent.

It was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and the theme this year was Hedy Lamarr. This was the first movie, and we were looking forward to it because not only was Ms. Lamarr in it, but also Spencer Tracy, several other good bit players, and it was adapted from a Steinbeck novel which Mr. Otter loved as a kid (Although I have read a lot of Steinbeck and enjoyed it, I have never read this one.)

And…it was pretty bad. Hedy was good, and extremely beautiful. John Garfield (as a Mexican-American…!) was cute and had a decent role, although he didn’t seem too bright, since he kept letting Tracy’s crew take advantage of him.

But oh my god, Spencer Tracy and his pack of layabouts (including Akim Tamiroff and Sheldon Leonard) were SO FREAKIN’ ANNOYING! Lazy assholes taking advantage of everyone, and Tracy’s character was so manipulative we were yelling at the TV by the end. The crap this pack of losers got away with, and the stunts they pulled, and their justifications for lying, stealing, arson and drinking, were just teeth-grindingly awful, especially as they were supposed to be happy-go-lucky older Mexican-Americans as well. But even for the time (1942) when this was made, they were just freakin’ annoying.

The only older guy in the town we really liked was Frank Morgan as the Dog-guy. He and his dogs were great. And John Garfield was cute and nice, if gormless. And Hedy was beautiful.

Otherwise? meh.

Saving Mr. Banks

banks

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

P. L. Travers (author of the Mary Poppins books) comes to Disney to oversee the writing of the screenplay for the Mary Poppins movie in 1964.

Sure, I saw the movie as a kid. At least, I think I did…maybe on TV? or during a Wonderful World of Disney special? or…hm, maybe I didn’t. But I knew all the damn songs, you heard them EVERYWHERE in the 60s. Feed the Birds, and Chim-Chim-Cheree, and A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down, and Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious…you literally heard them EVERYWHERE. Or were forced to sing them in school. Or to listen while other people played or sang them.

But there was a time, after Mr. Otter and I were married, when we were both really sick with colds at the same time; we were so sick we took a week off work and stayed home together. And we were bored. So we went to the local video rental store (yes, kids, we’re talking about a time before Netflix, Amazon, or DVDs, if you can imagine that) and rented some movies to watch. On VHS tapes.

And this was one of them, because neither of us had seen it for at least thirty years (and I couldn’t actually remember having seen it at all…just clips of some of the dance numbers, or hearing the songs).

And we watched it…and we HATED IT. Oh my god. We love Julie Andrews in musicals. We love Dick Van Dyke. But this movie was just appalling. Inane, stupid, childish in a bad way. Van Dyke’s accent just made us cringe and grit our teeth, and when he dropped his pants and started dancing with the penguins, I just put my head in my hands til it was over.

WE HATED THIS MOVIE.

Now, the other parenthetical thing I must say is that although I have been a librarian my whole career, mostly in Children’s and Teen Services, I have never read the original Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers. I don’t know why; I read a lot of older British authors (Nesbit and Lofting and others) but I was never drawn to these.

And when this movie came out, I was actually interested because I like Andrews and Tom Hanks so much…but I never went to see it.

So now, Mr. Otter and I were home, and he had brought home some movies to watch, and as is often the case I took a look at them and said, meh, you watch them and I’ll read or do computer work or something and keep you company.

And this movie sucked me in within ten minutes.

What a good movie. Charming writing, great characters, a wonderful plot, great storytelling, good acting. I loved this movie.

I’m not going to say much about it, because one of the joys of it was watching it unfold. But this is a REALLY REALLY GOOD MOVIE.

The only thing I’ll add is, make sure you don’t turn it off at the end; watch the credits. Because there is footage of Travers working with the Disney writers and it’s JUST LIKE THEY SHOWED IT IN THE MOVIE.

This was a winner, we both thought it was excellent.

Risen

risen

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A Roman tribune is given the job of keeping the Jews under control during and after the Crucifixion, then finding the missing body, and of course he comes to believe that Christ is the Messiah.

Mr. Otter and I have a guilty secret. We love cheesy biblical epics. Like this. And especially this. So when he brought this home from his library to watch, I was all over it.

And it stars Joseph Fiennes, whom I consider to be serious eye-candy.

And…this was actually pretty good. Fiennes is serious; he has a job to do and he is doing it, and trying not to let the supernatural get in the way until he can’t deny it any longer. He comes slowly around to his new fellowship with the people he’s supposed to be rounding up, and his change of heart is believeable.

The settings, costumes and soldier-stuff is also very good; they really did try to make this look as authentic as possible. It’s a little ponderous, because you just can’t be flippant about the Crucifixion…well, okay, Monty Python can, but nobody else.

So this was surprisingly not cheesy. It’s a little slow, and takes itself a little seriously, but it’s not at all bad.

And it’s nice to see that Joseph Fiennes is still good eye-candy. Whew.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

babyjane

Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

An aging child star is taking care of her disabled sister.

Mr. Otter and I were traveling and enjoying Karina Longworth’s wonderful podcast series, You Must Remember This. On this trip, we listened to her series about Joan Crawford, about whom we knew very little, and decided to watch some of the movies Longworth discussed. This was one of them.

At this point in their careers, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are both older (54 and 56 respectively…oh my god, both younger than I am now!) and were looking for a vehicle that would give them, if not a comeback, at least some money.

Davis is truly awful to watch as she does an excellent job as the child star whose self-centeredness repels all who know her and who gives up her ‘career’ to take care of the sister who was disabled in a car accident she causes (this is all in the first ten minutes of the movie, no spoilers here.) She dresses, acts and looks like pure crazy. She is a joy to watch, truthfully, because one thing you can always say about Davis: she didn’t care how bad she looked or how much the audience hated her if the part called for it.

Joan Crawford should have looked equally awful, but couldn’t bear to, so she is more made-up and put-together. Her character is more sympathetic, and is good counterpoint to Davis’ horror.

I won’t say any more about the movie, because I don’t want to give anything important away. But seeing the characters go further and further down the path they’re on is like eating too many sweets…you know you’re going to regret it and you should stop, but you just can’t.

This is definitely worth watching at least once. Tacky, exploitive, brash, annoying but compelling.

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