Julie & Julia is that movie about Julia Child and another real person that isn’t as famous. I could repeat the usual analysis of it in which people point out the story line with Julia Child (brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep; poor girl, she actually has to go to the Oscars again) is great, but the part with Amy Adams, a good actress stuck with a dull, uninteresting character, isn’t so much so (it’s even hard to understand, based on the excerpts read aloud in the movie, why anybody even read her blog). Instead I’ll focus on an odd through line that I found somewhat disturbing. For a movie that has two women as central characters, the movie as a whole doesn’t have much positive to say about women as a whole. In the screenplay by director Nora Ephron, there are two kinds of women. There are the friends of Julie, high powered businesswomen played at the height of soullessness in their best Faye Dunaway/Diane Christiansen manner by an assortment of actors. They’re the bane of Julie’s existence and ridiculed mercilessly by Ephron. The other kind of women, the ones that Ephron seems to approve of, are nonthreatening, never even considering doing a man’s job. For Julia, it’s to take a cooking class without the goal of becoming of chef and then writing a cook book; for Julie, it’s writing a blog about cooking and then writing books. Nice, safe womanly things to do (even in Julia’s world, the male chefs are accepting and encouraging, it’s the female who runs the cooking school herself who is the gorgon). Though on the outside this movie would seem to be an antidote to the misogynistic turn of romantic comedies like The Proposal and The Ugly Truth, once the surface is scraped away, it’s not really that much different.
Every Wednesday, I go to some friends house for bad movie night. This week it was peril in the air week and we watched Turbulence, an action movie about Ray Liotta playing a psychotic (I know, I know, a bit redundant) serial killer who manages to kill all the pilots and police officers on a plane leaving only a flight attendant, Lauren Holly, to land the damn thing. All I could think is, I don’t remember Doris Day in Julie or Karen Black in Airport 1975 being so annoyingly helpless (yes, believe it or not, this is not the first movie about a flight attendance having to land an airplane, though it’s doubtful there’s enough yet to make a genre all its own–at least, let’s hope not). Brendan Gleeson plays another psychotic criminal though what is even more criminal is his poor attempt at a Southern accent. Ben Cross from Chariots of Fire is on hand as a pilot who looks like he’s had that Rupert Everett type non-face lift face lift. As the movie goes on, one can see what probably went wrong: the producers spent so much money on the special effects, they didn’t have enough money to pay a good screenwriter or hire a good director. Art is full of little trade offs. Wouldn’t you love to be able to read minds as the different actors watched this movie? I keep thinking of the night Jay Leno had Hugh Grant on after his being picked up while receiving a blow job from a prostitute–the first thing Leno asked was “What were you thinking?”
The week before I saw Candy, that oh so controversial movie from 1968 from the oh so controversial novel by Terry Southern. The movie has Richard Burton, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, James Coburn and Marlon Brando as the various men trying to bed the virginal teenager Candy Christian played by nymphet Ewa Aulin (who ain’t half bad), though it seems awfully odd that she has a Swedish accent when she’s John Astin’s daughter. The story never makes sense, though Brando is very funny as a fake guru. What’s interesting here is how times have changed. In 1968, Candy would have been seen as a symbol of sexual liberation, that she was someone all men wanted to bed and it was her fault because she was so sexual and innocent. Today, it’s a film about pedophilia and a bunch of men who want to rape a teenager.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is the most successful film overall, though perhaps not the most visceral (when push comes to shove, warm family comedy doesn’t have the same immediate impact as car crashes, rape, werewolves tearing people apart—in case you were wondering, the car crashes et. al. refers to Not Quite Hollywood). In fact, the visuals in Yoo-Hoo… are probably its weakest part. It’s one of those documentaries in which generic footage is used, which always feels like a cheat no matter how well intentioned. In addition, one is never always sure which generic footage is really generic and which are not. But Molly Berg led a fascinating life creating a show about a Jewish family that even nuns listened to. Since it was radio, she was able to get away with a bit more, like dramatizing a sedar, having a rock thrown through a window and talking about what was happening in Germany (on TV it’s unclear she ever went that far). The most fascinating and suspenseful part of the film is her run in with the black list, something she fought, but lost: she was never named, but the man playing her husband, Richard Loeb, was and he eventually committed suicide (for those of you who have seen The Front, with Woody Allen, the part played by Zero Mostel is based on Loeb). The Goldbergs were soon overtaken by I Love Lucy (both literally, as in the time spot, as well as in the hearts of the viewing public), but Molly’s life is still a fascinating one worth knowing about.
Not Quite Hollywood is certainly interesting and I love movies that fill me in on niche sections of the film industry. This documentary tells us all about the B films made in Australia from the 60’s to the 80’s that were mainly shown in exploitation theaters and drive ins in the U.S. Much of it, mainly the commentaries by people who were connected to the films as well as film critics from the period, is fascinating. But it does seem to fail in one area: I didn’t come away wanting to see any of these films or feel like a treasure trove of movies has been overlooked. In fact, the documentary convinced me that these were pretty awful movies overall (even Quentin Tarrentino, one of the main commentators, rarely came out and say these were great films, but tended to say that certain scenes were great and that they were influential). Even Mad Max, perhaps the best film to come out of this, looks like a piece of merde in the context of the films shown here. The best line is probably that of a critic referring to a particular producer and set of movies saying they “should be burned to the ground and his ashes sown with salt”.