Maybe I should’ve called this post “Weeks 21–22”, to ensure that the titles of these roundups had a complete run of weeks throughout the year. But I didn’t actually watch anything new in Week 21 (my only film that week was the Challenge-qualifying rewatch of On the Town), so it seemed inaccurate to include it.
Week 22, on the other hand, was moderately busy, with this lot…
This Means War
McG | 98 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | United States / English | 12 / PG-13
I bet whoever came up with this thought they were a genius: “spyfi action-adventure + rom-com? It’s the perfect date movie!” Of course, what you actually end up with is a film that struggles to do either part well.
It stars the unlikely combo of Chris Pratt and Tom Hardy (you definitely can’t imagine Hardy doing a movie like this today) as BFF CIA agents who independently fall for the same woman, played by Reese Witherspoon. Uh-oh. Hilarity ensues as the guys deploy their CIA tricks and tech to influence the relationships. Yeah, it’s the kind of concept that once upon a time sounded like a fun and quirky rom-com, but nowadays seems at best morally dubious, at worst downright creepy. And, indeed, that’s how it plays out, with situation after situation that’s played for laughs but feels a little uncomfortable.
Of course, the big question is “who ends up with who?” This is one of those films so committed to its storyline, so structured to lead to one correct answer, that… they shot multiple endings so they could decide in post. The one they went with doesn’t feel quite right, but, if you imagine the alternatives, most of them don’t either. Well, I say that: I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to tell you that Witherspoon ends up with one of the guys, when the correct choice would’ve been “neither of them. Run from the stalker-ish CIA agents! Find a normal man!”
To Be or Not to Be
Ernst Lubitsch | 99 mins | digital (HD) | 1.37:1 | USA / English | U
Ernst Lubitsch’s satire concerns an acting troupe in occupied Poland who become mixed up in a soldier’s efforts to capture a German spy before he can undermine the resistance. Made while World War II was still in full force, the film attracted criticism in some quarters for being a comedy about such tragic and ongoing real-life horrors. Lubitsch defended his work, writing to one critic to say, “What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation.” He’s right, of course; at least about the first part. Ridiculously, such debates about whether you can satirise the Nazis persist to this very day — just look at some of the responses to Jojo Rabbit.
Lubitsch’s film is subtler than Waititi’s, though still undoubtedly a comedy. I mean, with its plucky resistance members taking occupying Nazis for fools, I couldn’t help but think of this as a classier version of ’Allo ’Allo… but I’ve never actually seen a whole episode of that show, so don’t hold my comparison in too high a regard. Whereas that sitcom is famous for its catchphrases and bawdy gags, To Be or Not to Be is less overt, preferring to paint the Nazis as fundamentally incompetent and derive its humour there.
Despite the distaste some felt, it obviously works for most people, as it appears on several “great movies” lists, not least both the IMDb and Letterboxd Top 250s. To be honest, I feel like I need to give it another spin to digest it more fully, but these thin thoughts will have to suffice for now.
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Christopher Petit | 94 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | UK / English | 15
I’ve never read the P.D. James novel on which this is based, but I’m assured it’s longer and more complex — the film rather lacks for plausible suspects, making the central murder mystery thoroughly guessable.
That said, I’m not sure co-writer/director Christopher Petit is all that concerned with producing a true whodunnit. Put another way, I think he’s more interested in the characters, who happen to be involved in a mystery, than in the mystery itself. Which is fine, but I’m also not sure the film does as good a job as it could digging into those characters. I mean, the way the kinda-naïve young investigator becomes obsessed with the deceased subject of her inquiries — almost falling in love with him, it seems, like some kind of gender-flipped riff on Laura — is more nodded at than explored.
In the end, I felt like I wanted to like the film more than it was actually giving me things I needed to really like it. It’s not bad, but perhaps it could have been great.
The Pajama Game
George Abbott & Stanley Donen | 101 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English | U
This minor musical is primarily of note for two things: the original Broadway staging featured the choreography debut of one Bob Fosse; and it features the song Hernando’s Hideway — if you don’t recognise the title, I’m sure you’ll recognise the tune. I had no idea this is where it originated.
The story is about a pay dispute in a pyjama factory (given the current strikes and arguments here in the UK, you might think I watched this deliberately. Nope, total coincidence). On one side there’s the leader of the union’s grievance committee (Doris Day, one of just a handful of replacements made to the original cast when they transferred the stage production to the screen). On the other, the new superintendent (John Raitt, clearly a success on Broadway but less so on film). Of course, they fall for each other, before the pay conflict tears them apart. Can their love overcome such trials? What do you think?
I saw someone describe The Pajama Game as an overlooked classic, which is taking things a bit far. It’s mostly likeable and quite fun, but rarely transcends that level. The undoubted highlight is Fosse’s choreography, which gives even the lesser numbers a polished dynamism. There are a couple of decent songs, but nothing really stands out, bar the aforementioned. It gets a bit too farcical in places, with some of the storylines ultimately taking a turn into very broad territory that feels misjudged. One primarily for genre fans only.
Rod Lurie | 126 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | USA, Germany & UK / English | 15 / R
I only picked this up on disc because it was part of a bundle of other titles I really wanted, but it also sounded like the kind of thing I’d like. Strange that I’d not heard of it before, then. I guess some films just get lost in movie history, especially when they’re a lesser member of a whole wave of movies. This is a political thriller of the kind they seemed to make quite a few of during the ’90s and into the early ’00s, but don’t really do anymore. I guess they exhausted the well, especially after 156 episodes of The West Wing.
In this case, the story revolves around Laine Hanson (Joan Allen), the first woman nominated to be Vice President (it only took another two decades for that to happen in real life). There’s the familiar battle between the Democrats to get her confirmed, and the Republicans who’d like to do anything to thwart the Democrats. Amongst the scheming between the two sides, the big revelation is that Laine possibly engaged in a scandalous sex act while in college. She refuses to confirm or deny the rumour — it’s her personal business and shouldn’t affect her appointment. Except, of course, it does.
Various other allegations come and go throughout the confirmation process, the two sides continuing to go back and forth in their attempts to win. It’s not necessarily the point the film is making, but it’s a reminder that politics is all a game to those involved, even as it can have serious effects on the lives of the rest of us. More overtly, the film tackles the different standards a woman is held to when trying to take public office. Fortunately, it’s not as overbearing with that as it could be. Indeed, all round the film is fairly understated. It’s a solid, unflashy, procedural-based kind of thriller.
That is until the end, when it throws away the understatement for a grandstanding speech based around a fundamental belief in the greatness and goodness of the American political system. It would be heavy-handed in any circumstance, but the past few years (if not longer) of American politics have shown it for the total lie it always was. It doesn’t wholly undermine what’s gone before, but it does end the film on a sour note.