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Weekly Mishmash: July 19-25

The Firebird (1934). I was intrigued by this melodrama on the Turner Classic Movies schedule, noting that this was a rare starring vehicle for the obscure but fabulous Verree Teasdale. Teasdale was great in wry comedic parts, usually as the leading lady’s sardonic gal pal; here she gets to emote aplenty as a Viennese society woman who emerges as a suspect in the murder of a sleazy actor (played by who else but Ricardo Cortez). This was a rather ridiculous movie — set in Europe, but with a cast speaking in all sorts of accents — but it did have enough interesting touches to place it above the ordinary. It certainly was a treat seeing Teasdale doing something different. Here’s a publicity photo of Teasdale and hubby Lionel Atwill, looking appropriately concerned:

The Firebird w/Verree Teasdale

On Moonlight Bay (1951). Nostalgic, soufflé light and corny Doris Day musical. With Doris as a tomboy pining after handsome Gordon MacRae in an idyllic 1910s town, this is a bit of a Meet Me In St. Louis ripoff, right down to casting actor Leon Ames as Doris’ dad. Once you overlook the commercial-ness of the whole thing, however, the film winds up being a lot of undemanding fun, pretty sharply written, nicely photographed in glorious Technicolor. Best of all, the star gets to sing often and her transformation from bratty teen to lovely young lady is nice. Mary Wickes as the family maid gets the “best supporting cast member” award. I don’t have any great desire to check out the sequel, By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, however.
Sweet Land (2005). Unusual, critically acclaimed indie follows a mail order bride as she and her groom-to-be struggle for acceptance in an uptight 1920s community. I applaud the filmmakers for trying something contemplative in nature, but overall I just never took to this. In the beginning, the film shifts around in time, with the lead as an old lady looking back. An interesting touch, but it deflates all the drama that follows as to whether she’ll be deported or not. There are a few effective scenes, but on the whole it was too dull and dreary. On a shallow note, actress Elizabeth Reaser’s contemporary red curls and wardrobe was too distracting to be credibly ’20s. I did enjoy Alan Cumming as the couple’s cheery neighbor, but he was a rare bright spot in an otherwise blah film.
Torchwood: Children of Earth (BBC America). Best. Torchwood. Ever. Although I don’t usually take to TV sci-fi, Christopher helped turn me on to Torchwood. The show has an interesting, quirky sensibility. I loved the cast, headed by dreamy John Barrowman as the ageless Captain Jack Harkness. Although a few actors are missing from this epic final miniseries (Where were Owen and Tosh? Oh yeah, they’re dead.), it was a fascinating ride. This one revolved around mysterious aliens who communicate through Earth’s children. You would think that would take less than five nights to resolve, but all sorts of intriguing stuff happens over all that time. And it never came across as overextended. Jolly good show.
Watchmen (2009). The 2009 movie that everybody anticipated, then turned against after opening weekend. Right? Having never read the comic, I believe that this was a fanboy’s faithful rendition of a movie, which wound up being its undoing. It seemed wayyyy overproduced to me, padded out with one too many fight scenes, weighed down with an oppressive soundtrack. Some of the special effects were excellent, however, and I think there was a lot of potential with individual characters such as Dr. Manhattan and the Nite Owl. Christopher said he would have rather followed a film that only told Dr. Manhattan’s story. I totally agree. Now I’d like to check out the original comic.

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