It was a busy movie watching week with a troubled writer, a Hollywood love story, a father looking for his lost son in war, a rocker posing as a teacher, and a children’s book author whose animal creations come to life. You may already guess a couple of the titles from the descriptions above and it was nice to have an overall gentle week in movie watching. Here are the movies that I saw:
The Whole Wide World (1996) – dir. Dan Ireland
This is the movie about the tentative courtship between Novalyne Price and pulp fiction author, Robert E. Howard. I have written a full review for this low-key, effective film that contains some moments that terrifically capture a writer’s imagination and a tender, but tragic romance.
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015) – dir. Daniel Raim
This charming documentary is about an unsung couple in Hollywood, Harold and Lillian Michelson, who were instrumental in the creation of classic movies for over 50 years since the 1940s. Harold was a storyboard artist who drew the artwork that gave way to classic moments from movies like Spartacus, The Birds, and The Graduate before he went onto become an Oscar-nominated production designer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Lillian was a film researcher who found the details to bring famous movies like Scarface to life and worked in famous studios like Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks. Harold’s work reminds us moving images require static images to put together and Lillian’s work reminds us of the painstaking research that is required to bring authenticity and credibility to a film from the smallest detail. Film buffs would be fascinated to learn about this under-recognized duo who gave life to so many classic films while maintaining one of the rare lasting marriages in Hollywood. Lillian narrates much of the film about her late husband’s and her own work.
Shenandoah (1965) – dir. Andrew V. McLaglen
Jimmy Stewart stars as a Virginia farmer and father of six sons and one daughter who vows to stay out of the Civil War that breaks out near his land in Shenandoah Valley. The movie carefully displays the family’s stance of neutrality in showing their family being anti-slavery and having a young African-American as a close friend but also having the daughter marry a Confederate soldier. When the youngest son gets caught as a POW on the Union side while wearing a Confederate soldier cap that he picked up, Stewart sets out with some of his children on a quest to find him. It is interesting to reflect on this movie’s reception against the backdrop of the Vietnam War but, at its heart, it is a movie about a father looking for his lost son as a shepherd looks for his lost sheep. Some points in the story are unbelievable as certain actions do not seem to have as serious consequences as they should, but, by the end, I was so moved that I thought that the last hymn played in the church would be “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us.” My mind filled in the gap anyway, which suggests the effectiveness of the film.
School of Rock (2003) – dir. Richard Linklater
As it was playing on TV, I re-watched this fun little gem that shows Jack Black in probably his funniest comedic performance. Director Richard Linklater and writer Mike White fashioned a tailor-made vehicle for Black, who makes his love of rock and roll infectious to the class that he teaches and the audience with ease. Black plays Dewey Finn, who does con his fifth-grade class and impersonate his roommate as a substitute teacher, but his passion to put on a great rock and roll show winningly brings out the musical talents in his class (who are cast with actors who are convincing musicians first). The story checks off the familiar points to make a feel-good film but with some quirky details of originality tucked in between including the school principal character played by Joan Cusack.
Miss Potter (2006) – dir. Chris Noonan
This is the second movie that I saw with Renee Zellweger, who often picks good, strong-willed female roles. Here, she plays the British children’s author, Beatrix Potter, who wrote “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” among other books in the early 1900s. The movie often fantastically shows the animals in her drawings come to life, which makes it easy to see why Noonan, who directed Babe, would helm this one, too. As Zellweger plays her, Potter is independent and not willing to settle for any suitor merely on the basis of wealth until she finally falls for her publisher, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). While there is a certain amount of serious drama, this is mostly a frothy, straightforward portrait of a woman who was ahead of her time and stuck to her talents despite all the familial and social roadblocks, including her own mother.