Crap Shoot: The Documentary (2007). A constantly behatted midwestern guy and his buddy journey to Hollywood and Las Vegas to find out just why current movies are so awful. Speaking of awful … director/writer Kenneth Close obviously fancies himself a Michael Moore type, but the guy has zero charisma and his strained attempts at humor give me the hives. It has all the style and panache of homemade camcorder footage from the ’80s, and furthermore I’m convinced that all the rave reviews this thing got on IMDb were penned by Close and/or his friends. Yuck!
Pete’s Dragon (1977). One of those movies that I loved as a kid. From an adult perspective, I’d say the movie is deeply flawed — but worth watching just to check out what the Disney studio was cranking out during its most anachronistic period. First off, it’s too long and suffers from many dull spots (usually when the dragon, Elliot, isn’t around). Though nicely animated by Don Bluth, the character of Elliot is a bit of a cypher. The cast hams it up like crazy, and young Sean Marshall as Pete is about as generic a little kid as ever headlined a big budget musical. It goes against logic that non-actor Helen Reddy as the lightkeeper Flora delivers the most subtle and nuanced performance. Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn’s songs are a delight, and I’m surprised at how well I remember many of them — “The Happiest Home In These Hills,” “Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too),” “It’s Not Easy,” “Candle On The Water.” Perhaps Disney could do a tighter remake using the same score, updated with snazzy CGI effects. And don’t forget the “Win a trip to Disneyland” promotion …
A Private View — Irene Mayer Selznick. The 1983 biography of a woman best known for being daughter and wife to two of classic Hollywood’s most powerful moguls. Both Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick come across as sympathetic and stubbornly human men who influenced Irene’s life in countless ways. Irene is an excellent writer with a gift for observation and a pragmatic viewpoint, traits that especially shine in the earlier chapters of her book. Unlike many other bios where childhood memories make up the dullest parts, Irene shows herself to have been a remarkably poised and precocious little girl almost from birth. She’s a stark contrast to her vain and impetuous older sister, Edith (who is by far the least likable person in the book). After Irene divorced Selznick in the ’40s, she went on to forge a thriving career in the New York theatre scene as producer of A Streetcar Named Desire and several other plays. It’s a fitting coda to an uplifting book.
Romance on the High Seas (1948). Doris Day’s first movie is a lively Technicolor musical filled with excellent swing music, gay misadventures, and some truly gorgeous costumes and sets. Fluff, to be sure, but this is the best fluff there is! Seeing it makes me realize that Warner Bros. could often outdo MGM in the musicals department. While MGM’s stuff reveled in schmaltz, Warners piled on the panache with a distinctly modern sensibility. The ace supporting cast includes Jack Carson (great comic timing), Janis Paige (what a dish), and S.Z. Sakall (best jowls in classic moviedom).
Salesman (1968). The one DVD that I’ve been pestering Netflix to carry since 2001 recently became available to rent — finally! This documentary by Albert and David Maysles focuses on a group of door-to-door bible salesman as they struggle to meet sales quotas. Some find the Maysles’ straightforward style boring, but I found the entire film enthralling and very evocative of ’60s America and its dashed hopes. We see the salesmen as they work snowy Boston streets and dingy Florida suburbs with desperate zeal. Most of the would-be customers are families who are barely getting by, captured with the resigned sadness of a Diane Arbus photograph. The main salesman the filmmakers follow, an older guy with a vacant stare, reminded me of Jack Lemmon in Glengary Glenn Ross (or better yet, Gil from The Simpsons). Worth the wait for sure.