Caprice (1967). I can definitely see why Doris Day and Richard Harris’ mod ’60s spy spoof was a flop in ’67; it’s unfocused — swerving violently from comedy hijinks to romantic drama — frustrating to follow, badly edited, and suffering from serious lack of chemistry between the leads. As broadly directed by Frank Tashlin, the comedy pushes beyond pointlessness. Doris is game, but she’s miscast as an international spy investigating a cosmetics empire. In a way, this film played like a less bloated, lower wattage Casino Royale. There are a couple of elements that make this worth a peek for those into high ’60s visuals. Day is outfitted in a dated yet stunning wardrobe of Op Art minis and checkerboard sunglasses thanks to designer Ray Aghayan, and Leon Shamroy’s widescreen photography has a breathtaking lushness, even when the set designs are not (I’d describe the interiors as Rococo Puke). The climactic scene, filmed in L.A.’s classic Bradbury Building, gave us a little thrill — as it did when the historic site showed up in a recent FlashForward episode. That elevator, those tiles — we were there!
Marshall Crenshaw – The Best Of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy. Could “Someday Someway” be the coolest pop hit from the ’80s? My first eMusic download of the month was a byproduct of the site’s recent acquisition of the huge Rhino/Warner Bros. catalog. The official download edition of this 2000 CD, unfortunately, is missing a few songs — a fact that Rhino conveniently neglects to mention on the site (gee, and they wonder why illegal downloading is so popular?). That quibble aside, this was an excellent power pop compilation which drives much of its affable energy from a good dosage of Crenshaw’s first two albums (1982′s Marshall Crenshaw and 1983′s Field Day). With ’85′s Downtown, Crenshaw went for a more rootsy sound and kicked off a less accessible but equally worthwhile period. What strikes me about his later stuff is that it sounds nearly identical to mainstream Country music as it became more pop-oriented in the ’00s. “Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me” would be perfectly at home between Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney on any current C&W radio station.
Divorce, Italian Style (1961). Shrill but entertaining Italian sex comedy with mustachioed Marcello Mastroianni as a beleaguered man given to fantasizing about ways to off his pinhead wife so he can take up with his flirty cousin. Briskly paced, creatively made, and Mastroianni is an excellent heel, but did I mention it’s shrill? Everybody talks loudly, the soundtrack is annoying, and after a while it gets to be too much. The first half contains some great comedy, however.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). This one took me by surprise — mostly because it came from Wes Anderson, whose films I absolutely loathe (okay, I’ve only seen The Royal Tennenbaums — but that was such a turd of a movie that I’m too scared to see any of his other efforts). This is an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story about a cunning fox (voiced by a somewhat too recognizable George Clooney) who has to give up his foxy ways to raise a family. When the brood moves back to his old stomping grounds, he can’t resist going back to performing elaborate heists on the three food factories nearby. This was such a sweet, adorable movie with a stunning visual design heavy on the gold tones. I loved the variety used in the character designs, from the elongated foxes to the corpulent factory owner. The animation, which I originally thought looked too jerky in the previews, flows beautifully throughout. I even loved the film’s snarky but not too contemporary sense of humor. Actually, everything about this movie was pitch-perfect; I even enjoyed it more than 2009′s other animated critical darling Up. Wes Anderson outdoing Pixar, who’da thunk it.
It’s a Wonderful World (1939). A movie that I’ve always been curious about; I finally got to catch it on TCM one recent morning. A big budget MGM production starring Claudette Colbert and James Stewart, it’s surprising that this “on the lam” comedy rarely registers with fans of either star. Having seen it, however, I can see why. This is your basic It Happened One Night rehash, only the sparks Colbert had with Clark Gable settles into a mere flicker with Stewart. Both actors give it a valiant try, and they certainly are charming here individually with a script that plays up their respective strengths (befuddlement for Jimmy, determination for Claudette). The plot, about police investigator Stewart trying to nab a criminal while being unlawfully pursued with daffy poetess Colbert in tow, is too lightweight — and the characters spend too much time pointlessly arguing — for me to care.
Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir by Kathy Griffin. An anniversary gift, Christopher enjoyed this one so much he lent it to me with his endorsement — sure enough, it is a dishy and surprisingly candid treat. We’re huge Kathy fans going back before her My Life on the D-List success, and seeing her live (sitting in front of her then-hubby Matt!) was such a blast. This book is pretty much what I expected, with Kathy breezing through her boisterous childhood, her early, lean years in Hollywood, her short-lived marriage, the struggle of being imperfect in a business that only accepts perfect bodies and faces, and finally success on her own fabulous terms. What I like best about her is that she’s a straight talker and totally self-deprecating in an endearing way. This book reads exactly as if Kathy were right there dishing with you, and in that respect she (and/or her ghost-writer?) deserves the celeb memoir A-list award.
Three Husbands (1951). This was a nice gem hidden in our “50 cheap old comedies” DVD set — a sex-inversed Letter to Three Wives tribute with a bit of All About Eve sophistication thrown in. Though it doesn’t approach the artistry of either, it’s still an intriguing look at the mores of 1950s marriage with a decent cast including the marvelous Eve Arden, Howard da Silva, Emlyn Williams and Ruth Warrick. Like Letter, this is told mostly in flashback with Williams posthumously informing his three best friends that he cheated with all of their wives. Interesting film, mostly for the way it treats male/female roles in the context of the early ’50s, but entertaining as well.