[Wintry] Weekend Roundup: House of Cards and All About Eve

BaftaStatuetteHello everyone! Happy post-BAFTA Monday, fellow film fans. I’ve only followed it somewhat via Twitter, seeing people’s reactions on the winners. What’s with the hate against ARGO, I think it deserved the Best Film and Best Director win for Ben Affleck. In fact, it’s perhaps one of my favorite Best Picture contenders, but I remember people were grumbling too when The King’s Speech won. Ah well, I don’t always agree with the winners so it’s nice to be on the other side of that spectrum.

Well, we’ve got sleet/freezing rain/snow mix all day Sunday so I never left the house, which rarely happens. To all my friends in the Northeast affected by the monster storm Nemo, I pray that you’re all ok. I’m not gonna complain that we barely half a foot of snow!

I skipped the cinema again as nothing interest me. I had seen Side Effects a couple of weeks ago so check out my review if you haven’t already. Oh apparently Top Gun IMAX 3D re-release still spells ‘ka-ching’ for Paramount as it raked in $1.9 mil this weekend playing in 300 theaters. I wouldn’t mind rewatching that again on Blu-ray, I’ll see if my pal Ted has the BD 😉

So my weekend viewings consist of a brand new made-for-Netflix show House of Cards, a masterpiece classic All About Eve, and Bel Ami, which was so inferior compared to the other two. I don’t even feel like reviewing that last one. Right after I finished it, I couldn’t help but watch the last episode of North & South just to see this scene. Richard Armitage as John Thornton never fails to beguile me and erase my memory of Robert Pattinson as a cunning Frenchman.

House of Cards (2013)

I’ve only seen two episodes in and both are directed by David Fincher so naturally I expect something great. Well, thankfully it didn’t disappoint. Fincher’s directing style with his signature camera work and framing technique works well for this story. It made me wish he had directed the entire episodes though I reserve judgment until I see the entire first season. Kevin Spacey is perfectly cast Frank Underwood, a ruthless and ambitious politician (is there any other kind?) willing to use and betray anyone to get what he wants in Washington. I’m usually not into political shows, but this one is quite entertaining. Spacey’s got this inherent playfulness in portraying a despicable character, you’re repulsed and captivated by him at the same time.

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I just read this interview on Hitfix with Fincher on how the show came about, which was inspired by an early 90s UK TV series of the same name. It’s fascinating to see the casting process as well…

“…One of the responsibilities I put on the cast when we had our first read through is I said, “I want everybody here to know that you represent our first choice – each actor here represents our first choice for these characters. So do not f*** this up.”

The ‘breaking the fourth wall’ style where the character speaks directly at the audience is tricky, but I think it works well here, or at least the filmmaker and actor makes it work. Only Spacey’s character uses this technique though, it gives the feeling that we’re in on it on all of Frank’s schemes. I’m also impressed with the rest of the key players on the show: Robin Wright as Spacey’s equally sly wife, Kate Mara as the ambitious young reporter, and Corey Stoll as a Pennsylvania congressman consumed by his own demons of sex and drug addiction.
I hope the rest of the episodes are as intriguing as the first two, but my hubby and I are definitely hooked for more.
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All About Eve (1950)

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I’m sooo glad I finally saw this film, special thanks to my friend Vince for his help to get this movie! I initially wanted to see this as I’m participating in Paula and Aurora‘s 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon and I’m going to be featuring the famed costume designer Edith Head. So naturally I want to see some of her Oscar-winning work, and I’ve been wanting to see this one for ages. I also promised Andrew when he made this excellent Scene on a Sunday post on All About Eve over a year ago. It’s a bit late, sorry Andrew, but hey I did get to see it on a Sunday 🙂

This film was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture. As of today, it remains as the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Bette Davis and Ann Baxter as Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). It’s worth noting that out of the four actresses, I’ve only seen Baxter and Holmes in a previous film, thanks to my Gregory Peck marathon. Same with the two male actors Gary Merill and Hugh Marlowe who were excellent in Twelve O’Clock High. George Sanders was excellent as well as the mischievous theater critic.

Andrew said it best on Twitter last night… “… imagine it’s more than half a century old. It’s so (sometimes startlingly) relevant and fresh.” Indeed it was! In fact I was thinking that there are some similarities between House of Cards‘ Frank and Eve Harrington, different end goal but they both used the same conniving, manipulative means to get what they want.

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Andrew also asked me which one is my favorite performance. Oh boy, between Davis, Baxter and Holmes, it’s really hard to say. Having seen Bette Davis’ performance for the first time, I was quite mesmerized by her. Baxter perhaps has the hardest role to convincingly portray an innocent small town ingenue to a devious, scheming b*tch climbing her way to the top. At times her delivery is a bit too over the top When she was wearing a black wig in her dressing room following a performance, I was reminded of her seductive pur in The Ten Commandments as she was trying to seduce Moses, ahah. I guess I like Holmes’ character the most because she’s kindhearted and sees the good in people. She’s a fantastic actress and her scene with Baxter in the powder room is especially memorable. Oh, there was also a brief but interesting cameo of a then unknown starlet by the name of Marilyn Monroe as an aspiring actres, but it was kind of a thankless role for her.

There are much to admire about this film… starting with the bewitching story, brought to life by all the talents involved. What this film also has in abundance is style. Visually, its set direction, cinematography, and of course costume design are superb. The brilliant script also makes this film surprisingly funny. Davis’ Margo Channing not only dresses well, but she seems to have an endless supply of great lines as well. She seems to have the best lines when she’s vexed… “I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail like a salted peanut.” And of course her most famous line “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” is delivered with such a perfect sense of irony.

I feel like I can’t do it justice reviewing this film in my weekend roundup post, so let me just say that the iconic status is absolutely well-deserved. Joseph Leo Mankiewicz‘s film lives up to my already high expectations and captivated me from start to finish. Like Casablanca, I’m glad I finally saw one of Hollywood’s finest, and certainly it wouldn’t be the last.

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Well, that’s my Wintry weekend roundup. How ’bout you folks… seen anything good?

Classic Flix Review: Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Greetings and welcome to all and sundry. It’s my great pleasure to offer a Guest Review of a film I grew up with and have seen many, many times on television. With and without commercials. Though only a few times on the big screen. One of the great World War II films.

Winner of two Academy Awards. From 1949. Directed by Henry King. With Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger and stalwart of many 1950s Science Fiction films, Hugh Marlowe the focus of a large cast of seasoned, well versed character actors depicting life in a B-17 heavy bomber squadron attached to the Eight Air Force in the thick of Daylight Bombing Missions in 1942.

The film begins with mild mannered Dean Jagger’s Harvey Stovall stepping out of a post war London Haberdashery after spending ‘A splendid hour and a half.’ selecting and purchasing a Bowler Derby. Satisfied, Harvey passes by an Antiques Shop and notices something in the front display window. A keepsake from a bygone era. Another purchase is made and Harvey rides his bicycle out along far off paths and roads. To what once was USAAF Archbury, home of the 918th Heavy Bomber Squadron.

The scene dissolves into the return of a group of B-17s. Fewer than had gone out. Some flying well. Others damaged and straining to keep in the air. Crash crews and ambulances are scrambled as one bomber bellies in. Slides and grinds and comes to a stop. Hatches open and the crew escapes. One seriously wounded airman is stretchered out and a medic enters the stricken hulk and brings out something wrapped in a blanket. Another bad day after another tough miserable mission for the 918th. One of the 8th Air Force’s ‘Hard Luck Outfits’.

Arguments ensue during a somber debriefing. While just outside London a newly promoted Brigadier General Frank Savage is in discussions with Generals of even higher rank. It seems that the 918th and other squadrons have hit the point of diminishing returns. Losses on bombing missions are bad to staggering. Unit cohesion is suffering. Savage’s new orders are to relieve the 918th of its Commanding Officer, Colonel Keith Davenport and do whatever is necessary to get the 918th back in the plus column.

Savage arrives with little aplomb to see just how bad things are. Lax security at the front gate. The squadron’s Executive and Air Operations Officer, Lt. Colonel Ben Gately, is Absent Without Leave (AWOL) after Davenport has been relieved. Savage orders Gately be put under arrest and goes over the assigned staff records until Gately arrives and reports  for a private dressing down.

Savage demotes Gately from Air Exec to Aircraft Commander and orders him to paint ‘Leper Colony’ on the nose of his assigned bomber. To be crewed by Gately and any complainers, malingerers and those whose work is far below par. Because Gately rates them. The only way off ‘Leper Colony’ is improvement!

There’s a new sheriff in town and the officers and crew discover the next morning as Savage lays down the law. Leaves are canceled. No more combat missions until things improve. So, it’s back to fundamentals. Formation flying. Very tight. Very close. And lots of it! The crews gripe and groan as they are dismissed.

The crews revolt of course, and the Orderly Room is flooded with Transfer Requests. Enter Major Harvey Stovall. A lawyer in civilian life. Magnificently underplayed by Dean Jagger, who’s been sitting on the sidelines and slowly sizing up his new C.O. after having been earlier read the Riot Act. What he has seen, he likes so far. And an important alliance is formed as the bomber crews continue their griping and training.

Improvement occurs slowly but surely. Combat missions are scheduled. The officers’ Club is reopened and the keepsake from the Antique Shop takes its place on the O Club’s mantle. Facing those inside when there would be mission the next day. The missions go out and the crews practice what they’ve learned about tight box formations of eight planes and utilizing each plane’s ten machine guns to keep German fighters away. Military Air Doctrine at work when long range escorting allied fighters were still months away.

The missions go deeper and deeper into France and finally, Germany! By now the crews feel as though they are part of something bigger than themselves. Morale has improved and the squadron can hold its own with the enemy and takes bigger and bigger chances. Peck’s General Savage may still not be loved, but he is respected in spades! Men in unpressurized steel and aluminum  bombers will tempt death for him. Which was the overall objective of Savage’s assignment in the first place.

Which sets the table for a strategically important mission to bomb a ball bearing factory in Germany. All parts of the squadron are functioning as a well-oiled machine. The planes are scarred, but are ready to go. The crews board their B-17s and…. I won’t go further than that. Lest we get into Spoiler Territory.

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

Ramrod straight, spit & polish Gregory Peck playing a by-the-book officer, much to the alarm and dismay of his newly-assigned squadron. Who believe they have it rough until Peck’s General Savage shows them what rough really is! Peck’s Savage knows he’s not been given the 918th to be loved. He’s been given it to punch holes in the sky until its B-17s stand a better than decent chance of  survival against the Luftwaffe. Then punch more holes in the sky to bomb Fortress Europe. If that means closing the Officers’ Club until further notice. And telling your men to forget about going home or someplace better and consider yourself already dead.

Savage is more than willing to do that. Since Savage understands that he is but one large sprocket in a much larger machine. With even larger sprockets above and smaller ones below which all need to mesh for the machine to operate.

The film’s beautifully lit, B&W photography fuses subtly with the sunlight lit, spartan offices and adds to the overall power of the film. That meshes smoothly with the stock gun camera Dogfight footage of German Messerschmitts and Focke Wolf fighters for the brief times the 918th’s B-17s are airborne and over enemy territory. Some of the best aerial photography in film.

A large and impressive cast of secondary characters and their actors. Specifically, Gary Merrill’s Colonel Keith Davenport, Hugh Marlowe’s Lt. Col. Ben Gately and Paul Stewart’s ‘Doc’ Kaiser. Merrill’s Davenport is near to being burned out as the film begins. Only to return on a later visit to see that Savage starts showing small signs of being where he was before being relieved.

Marlowe’s Lt. Col. Gately is a spoiled, privileged son and grandson of Army generals as the film begins. Though through many weeks of the Savage Method, becomes his most ardent disciple. Even flying multiple combat missions with a chipped vertabra that later results in bed rest and Traction. His transformation is subtle, but intriguing to behold.

Paul Stewart’s ‘Doc’ Kaiser is the quiet one in the group, Watching and discreetly reporting to Savage and later, Air Exec, Major Stovall on the overall fitness of the crews and probably to the Big Brass in London on Savage’s fitness as well. Stewart is a past master of under statement and doesn’t disappoint.

What Makes This Film Great?

Everything that makes it good. Plus Gregory Peck firmly wrapping himself around a figure of authority that will be visited time and again in future films. Particularly Captain Horatio Hornblower and Captain Newman, MD. Though much more rigidly as General Frank Savage. The scenes Peck shares with Dean Jagger are sometimes humorous, though completely believable and a treat to watch. As is the dialogue and Technical Direction. Kudos to the film’s director, Henry King for making parts of Eglin Air Force base in Florida and its Auxilliary, #3, Duke Field, which is in the middle of nowhere, for filling in for USAAF Archbury.

On an historic note, Twelve O’ Clock High has been used for decades after its release as a case study and training aid  in countless military and private sector leadership seminars throughout the United States and the world. Specifically used to stimulate discussions regarding authority and respect for the chain of command. The film was nominated for the National Film Registry in 1949 and was selected for the Registry in 1998.
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Have you seen this film? Thoughts are welcome in the comments.