Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on May 25th, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Friday, February 8, 2008.

Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, starring Dame Wendy Hiller, Norman Shelly and Roger Livesey.

Joan Webster (Hiller) is a middle-class London woman looking to elevate here status by marrying Sir Robert Bellinger (Shelly). She knows that she does not love him but she also knows that she is tired of doing without. She is to meet Sir Bellinger on his private island off the coast of Scotland for their wedding. All is going to plan until a storm sweeps in and forces her ferryboat onto another island. There she must wait out the storm with a motley crew of country folk and a naval officer (Livesey) returning from World War 2.

Powell & Pressburger spent the years leading up to and during WW2 making espionage thrillers (CONTRABAND, THE 49TH PARALLEL) to remind England what they were fighting against. In the years following the war they made several films to remind England what they had been fighting for. With I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING they focused on the simple pleasures that we miss if we’re not paying attention. One of the great simple pleasures of this film is its unique black-n-white photography. I saw it at The Aero Theater a while back. I hope DVD can translate how it looked on screen. The images sparkle and shine as though conjured from mercury. ….Yeah yeah I know, sounds flaky, but I promise you have never seen black-n-white look so alive.

It’ll finish Tuesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 5.25.11
Two of the more perpetuated stereotypes of movie fans break down along gender lines: women don’t like horror movies, and men don’t like romantic comedies. I disagree with both notions. I’ll address the former some time in the coming months, but for now, let’s focus on the latter. I believe firmly that men and women, and movie fans of any gender preference, like a good romantic comedy. It’s the lackluster ones we can do without. Give us situations that we can relate to, or failing those then situations that we can believe in, or failing those then situations that reward our suspension of disbelief. Love requires people to work hard and work smart. Give us characters that we see willing to do that work, or who are willing to try and fail, before learning and succeeding. Give the audience characters who have earned our affection and we will want to see them rewarded with someone else’s affection. The majority of romantic comedy scripts fall short in at least one of these areas. A likable cast and quick pacing can make up for only a limited amount of unimaginative story and uninspiring characterization.

I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING begins realistically enough but becomes more unbelievable as the story progresses. The masterstroke of Powell & Pressburger’s script is the proportions by which a tone of charming mysticism builds as events became more unlikely. As Joan Webster becomes flummoxed by the uncontrollability of the weather, the islanders with whom she keeps company are certain that she is quite in the control of something else, call it fate or curse or God or Mother Nature. Joan does not open a door and step into a Technicolor dream like Dorothy entering Oz. Her journey is cautious with little nudges and twists of fate challenging her perspective and priorities. The changes Joan undergoes are anything but easy; if she is going to find happiness she will not do so by wishing, and then being cheerfully perky until nice things happen because they are dictated by the running time. When a romance believes this deeply in the transformative nature of love, and a comedy offers characters that we laugh with rather than at, then you have the makings of a milestone among romantic comedies.

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Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on January 23rd, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Friday, March 7, 2008

Written & Directed by Billy Wilder, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell and Evelyn Keyes.

Richard Sherman (Ewell) is your average family man living in Manhattan with his wife and son. He spends his days either working for a paperback press, where he daydreams himself into the stories he publishes, or in his psychiatrist’s office where he tries to make sense of his fantasies. Sherman’s daydreams become reality when his wife and son leave town for summer vacation and Marilyn Monroe rents the apartment upstairs.

George Axelrod‘s Broadway comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH generated most of its laughs through jokes about adultery. Billy Wilder knew that a story could get away with that on Broadway, but not in Hollywood in the 1950’s. Wilder and Axelrod altered the screenplay so that the seductions occur mostly in Sherman’s imagination rather than in his apartment. This change had the dual benefit of side-stepping the censors and enabling the film to poke more exaggerated fun at the male psyche than the play was able to. The film seems tame and cute by today’s standards, but in 1955 representatives from the Hays Code office and the Catholic Legion of Decency routinely appeared on set trying to rein in the fun. Thank God they were, for the most part, unsuccessful!

It’ll finish Tuesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 1.23.11
Two of the strongest elements of THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH are illustrated through the scenes of seduction: first, how creative and fun the script is, and second, what a unique actress and screen presence was Marilyn Monroe. Eight years before Fellini explored the sexual psyche of a man who had the means to fulfill many of his dreams, Wilder and Axelrod and Ewell play hysterically with a man in no position at all to act upon his fantasies. Richard Sherman is content with his imagination, too dutiful a husband and father to cheat on his family, and too decent to take advantage of The Girl upstairs. He has the desire, and for a time he is amused to simply imagine the possibilities, but his decency also forces him to imagine the ramifications. He does not simply imagine himself a Walter Mitty styled hero, or a lothario on the order of Guido Anselmi; he also imagines the shame of hurting his family. We are even treated to Sherman’s paranoia that The Girl might use her position as a performer in live television commercials to alert every woman in the tri-state area to his raging animal lust.

The amazingly sexy reality of Marilyn Monroe’s performance is that she never actively tries to entice Tom Ewell. Sure, she does in his waking dreams, but those moments are outrageous enough that they are more comic than sexy. Monroe is at her most attractive, and to Sherman her most irresistible, when she is sweetly naive of his intentions. She was 28 when THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH was filmed, but she manages to pull off an innocence more befitting a friendly and trusting young lady than the stereotypical dumb blonde. She walks an impossibly fine line here, succeeding in turning what could have been a one-note character into an emotionally and physically nuanced comedic performance worthy of Chaplin.

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Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on November 13th, 2009 by Jim Delaney

From June 17, 2008

Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Nora Ephron, starring Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, and photographed by — who knew? — Barry Sonnenfeld.

Harry Burns (Crystal) and Sally Albright (Ryan) share an awkward road trip from the University of Chicago to New York City.  Virtual strangers at the beginning of the trip, they become less-than-fond acquaintances by the time they arrive.  A series of coincidences or fate continues to re-introduce them to each other over the next 10 years.  As their reluctant friendship grows, they face the age old question of whether or not a man and woman can be friends without sex getting in the way.

It’ll finish Tuesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from November 13, 2009
I loved this movie when I first saw it in college, until my classmate Preston pointed out that it’s like Woody Allen’s Greatest Hits, without Woody. Not long after Preston made me aware of this, Premiere magazine backed him up with a table/flowchart sorta comparison. They cited roughly a dozen scenes in WHEN HARRY MET SALLLY in one column, and in adjacent columns they cited a Woody Allen title and a particular scene from that movie, making the case that Reiner-n-Ephron-n-Co. had come up wit a derivative movie.

Y’know what? I don’t care anymore. I don’t care, partly because in this day and age we have an emerging DJ-ethos to filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino is not unique in making a career of mashing up elements different movies that he loves, but he is unique and that he acknowledges it. But I also don’t care, because movies have always been this way. When I was enraptured by an amazing new movie called STAR WARS, my parents and everyone else their age were amused, but no where near as impressed as I was — they felt they had seen it already when it was called FLASH GORDON. Not only that, George Lucas himself admits on Criterion’s DVD of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS that he lifted his basic plot line and several character relationships directly from Kurosawa’s 1958 samurai tale.

SO … lifting scenes and inspiration is nothing new. I think a more important concern is: “How well do they do it?” Tarantino? Pretty damn well. Lucas? Even better. And 20 years after WHEN HARRY MET SALLY was knocked down several pegs for me, I am prepared to hoist it back up. It is a great big hug of a movie with a few classic moments all of its own. I’m not just referring to the Katz’s Deli-gasm either. I am hard pressed to think of any romantic comedy, by Woody or anyone else, with as show-stopping a speech as Harry’s New Years Eve plea to Sally. Go ahead — try to top that moment! You can’t!!

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