In my May 2013 In Films I saw a total of 44 new-to-me films, a little better than last month, but with my final deadlines for University, it still was not as much as I had liked. I was able to see The Big Sleep on the big screen at my local Picturehouse Cinema, Harbour Lights. I also saw a preview of Behind The Candelabra as part of E4’s Slackers Club, and whilst I enjoyed that, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be. I tried to watch more classical Hollywood and silent films this month, which I felt I did fairly well with, and in honour of the late Ray Harryhausen (whose tribute post I wrote about him you can find here), I watched some of his early shorts for the first time in my Early Years collection dvd (which can be bought here).
5) Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)
Marlene Dietrich stars as the feisty Helen Faraday in this classic drama from Josef von Sternberg (director of her earlier film The Blue Angel (1930)). It follows the story of a young woman, Helen whose husband (Herbert Marshall) is struck with Radium poisoning, and must travel to Germany to visit a doctor there who may be able to help him. The film is told through Helen as she recounts her story to her son Johnny, illustrated through flashbacks. The performances of Dietrich and Grant are particularly exceptional in this film, and it is a tender exploration of a mother making the right choices for her son.
4) On The Town (Stanley Donen, 1949)
On The Town is a classic musical gem straight from the Golden Age of Hollywood. It focuses on three men who visit New York for a day, and whilst they originally plan to spot the sights of the Big Apple, they end up finding romance and spending their holiday trying to win the girls’ affection. The film stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, who are charming in this hilarious musical comedy. The songs are also thoroughly enjoyable (as are most in the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals). On The Town is well worth a watch, and it is now one of my favourite musicals, and well deserving of 4th place.
3) The Story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (Ray Harryhausen, 1951)
Hansel and Gretel is my 2nd favourite fairy tale of all time (with The Snow Queen being my first), and Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation of this classic Grimm fairytale is visually spectacular for something made in 1951. Harryhausen said that, because this was a film made for young children to be watched in schools, etc, he had to be careful about the way he conveyed the burning of the witch in the oven. He did however, do a fantastic job; whilst the short film is appropriate for young children, it is faithful to the story in terms of its moralistic value and elements of horror. The film is worth seeing for the animation alone (its ability to portray emotions through facial expression and gestures is not something to be missed), but aside from that, it is an enjoyable adaptation of a classic tale, and perhaps the most charismatic of Harryhausen’s early films.
2) Kinky Boots (Julian Jarrold, 2005)
Kinky Boots is a flamboyant portrayal of a shoe-making factory in Northern England that faces the threat of closure. The manager, Charlie (Joel Edgerton) realises that to save the factory, which he has inherited from his father, he must create a product that will be successful enough to keep the factory going. These products, he realises, are shoes made for transvestites. The discovery is made when Charlie stumbles across a club where men dress in drag and perform on stage. The tranvestites there have been struggling to find shoes that are sturdy enough and fit their feet, and so he creates kinky boots. The film is charming with some fantastic performances from Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Kinky Boots also cleverly highlights the struggle of many people living in England during the reign of Thatcher, whilst simultaneously bringing to light the issue of equality, as Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) faces a lot of prejudice and abuse from those who do not accept her. A fantastic comedy drama that is well-deserving of 2nd place on this list.
1) A Smile as Big as the Moon (James Steven Sadwith, 2012)
The reason this film caught my attention is because it stars Jessy Schram, one of my favourite actresses who I had also met the previous week, and so when this film premiered on Sky Movies I thought I would give it a watch. The movie seems completely underrated in the UK, and isn’t even available on dvd, which is a real shame considering what an absolute hidden gem this film is. The narrative follows teacher Mike Kersjes (John Corbett), as he attempts to raise funds to get his special ed class to Space Camp. A truly heart-warming film, A Smile as Big as the Moon explores the power of human determination, reminding us that we can achieve anything we put our minds to. The narrative kept a light-hearted tone whilst simultaneously exploring the diverse problems that affected each of the children, from bipolar to down syndrome through to even dyslexia. And whilst it this is a made-for-TV film, the performances are outstanding, and the script is really well-written. The film is an instant classic, and more deserving of critical attention. You can watch the trailer for A Smile as Big as the Moon here, and you can watch it on the Sky Movies channels (and at the moment the film is on the On Demand service).