The Morning After #6: August 2, 2010

This week, I have no new releases to update you on. It was a busy weekend. Should have a new one next week. But, for now, have my thoughts on my three Netflix entries (including Feed the Queue vote winner Foreign Correspondent). There’s also Oscar-winning features My Left Foot and Cactus Flower. I’m also posting my thoughts on the final episodes of the final season of Soap.

So, here is what I watched this weekend:

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

Alfred Hitchcock’s second American film isn’t as impressive as his first (Rebecca), but is still an entertaining thriller with fewer twists than expected. The film centers around a young reporter with no international experience sent to Europe to cover the impending war and hopefully bring back a great story. He stumbles into a plot that could give him that report, but he must survive in order to convey it.

Joel McCrea delivers a solid performance as John Jones, given the nom de plume Huntley Haverstock by his overzealous publisher. While in Europe, he meets the affable Dutch peace negotiator Van Meer (played well by Albert Basserman) with the aid of philanthropist Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), his daughter Carol (Laraine Day) and a fellow reporter named ffolliott (George Sanders). Day and Sanders give competent performances, but Sanders seems to have typecast himself as the cynic as perfectly embodied in his better performance in his Oscar-nominated work in All About Eve ten years later.

ReleaseD the same year as his first American adventure, Foreign Correspondent unfairly pales in comparison. However, Hitch still managed to earn a rare two Best Picture nominations for his films. The film isn’t as memorable or exceptional of many of his future and celebrated works, but it’s suspenseful and entertaining enough to reflect favorably on him.

MY LEFT FOOT

The sometimes disjointed story of Christy Brown, an acclaimed painter whose cerebral palsy left him paralyzed from the neck down with only his left foot capable of independent movement. The film follows him as he learns to use that appendage to express himself through writing, painting and later typing. Daniel Day-Lewis received a deserved Oscar for his strong central performance, having delved so deeply into the role that it would accurately preface nearly every role he would ever take on. I might even suggest that Hugh O’Connor, who played the young Christy, gave a superior performance simply due to his age and since it’s unlikely Day-Lewis played his performance off of O’Connor, O’Connor deserves more praise for simply creating a comparable character.

Supporting him in the film is Brenda Fricker as his mother, a strong influence in his life and one of the few engaging characters in the film. It’s that lack of empathy for the individuals in the film that causes most of the film’s problems. You rarely attach emotionally to anyone but the mother whose hard work, physical and emotional turmoil are perfectly tuned. But even though you recognize Christy’s plight, there’s something off-putting, narcissistic and futile about the character. Perhaps that opinion is colored by the present-time scenes where the disagreeable drunkard is kindly doted on by all those around him. He makes himself out to be an irritating sot and that unlikable quality permeates most of the film. The few scenes of joy Day-Lewis gives Christy help temper the negative aspects of the character, but you never love him or sympathize with him except when he goes up against his semi-abusive drunk of a father.

The first two-thirds of the film are engaging enough even with the limited interruptions set in the film’s present tense, but as the last third speeds through time to reach the film’s conclusion and finally bridge present and past, we get too many fleeting scenes of Christy as an adult making his own decisions. It’s almost like the most important aspects of his life come prior to him becoming a drunk like his father. The parallel between the two male figures never getting a satisfying treatment.

CACTUS FLOWER

It’s a semi-entertaining film comedy in significant need of a better director and writer to shape the characters and events less broadly. The story revolves around a single dentist who tells his “mistress” that he’s married in order to feel her out as a suitable partner. His head nurse helps keep him straight, but as she gets further involved in the plot, her feelings for the boss develop into a wedge between them. Meanwhile, the young woman begins to develop feelings for the beatnik next door.

Walter Matthau plays the dentist, Ingrid Bergman appears his nurse, Goldie Hawn (in her first major big screen role) is the young mistress, and Rick Lenz is her carefree writer neighbor. Bergman is the highlight of the film with her stern countenance and strict mien that eventually melts into liberated emotion. Matthau and Lenz are fine, but not exceptional. And Hawn is really in fine form. It’s not a great performance, but it’s engaging enough to make the film feel more energetic.

The film lifts the mood, pacing and comic elements from a number of films like The Apartment and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but never manages to feel like a unique entity. Many of the scenes feel a bit forced and the situations a bit too carefully plotted, a remnant of the stage play on which the film is based, but its a frequently amusing film with a conclusion as predictable as any you’ve ever seen, but which is suitably reasonable and believable.

SOAP

And so it ends…unceremoniously. It should come as little shock that the series, which was canceled after its fourth season had wrapped, never got any real closure. Jessica stood before a firing squad, Burt was about to walk into an ambush and Chester was about to shoot his wife and bio-son Danny who he caught in bed together. Leaving off with a cliffhanger stinks and not getting to see the conclusion is worse. Although the series took a clear turn for the worse in its final season, I’m still saddened by not getting to see the end. Without resolution, the show feels like it could be picked up any time and continued, but the likelihood of that happening was dashed long ago. Creator Susan Harris had planned for a five-year run, so why she wasn’t given more time is anyone’s guess.

Farewell, Soap. You were a fun series and I’ll miss the laughs we had. Now, it’s time to decide which series will grace my play-online queue position…

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