Holiday Inn

Standard

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 1942
Rating: NR (but really I for Infuriating)
Currently Streaming on Netflix? No

Earlier this week, my husband and I were in the mood for a Christmas movie we hadn’t seen over and over again. I’ve been fighting some nasty cold (it’s almost made me think I’ve had influenza a couple of times but I haven’t had a fever or very many body aches) so novels and movies have been my friends. Holiday Inn was OnDemand. I hadn’t seen it in years—I think my last viewing was when I was home for Christmas during college. My husband had never seen Holiday Inn so we chose it from a long list of movies. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, what could go wrong?

The premise of the movie is that Jim Hardy (Crosby) is tired of the travel and hubbub of show business and wants to “go relax” and be a farmer with his singing partner Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds). Unfortunately for Jim, Ted Hanover (Astaire) has been wooing Linda on the side and wants her to stay in the act with him and not be drowned by domesticity down on the farm. Dialogue between Jim and Ted indicate there has been a long history of girlfriend “stealing” between the two men. Linda chooses to stay with Ted while Jim tries to tough it out on the farm he has purchased. But surprise! Being a farmer is as hard, if not harder, than being in show business. Realizing he is not cut out for farming, Jim decided to renovate the big farm house into an inn, which will only be open on holidays. This will minimize his work and provide a hook for people to come from New York City to the inn for the various holidays. Through a series of mishaps, Jim discovers Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) and has her sing and dance in the Holiday Inn shows. Sure enough, he starts to fall in love with Lila about the time that Linda abandons Ted for a Texas millionaire.

All is well and good in old movie time and space for quite a bit of screen time. Bing Crosby sings. Fred Astaire dances. There is slapstick humor and a money-grubbing manager. But on Lincoln’s birthday, my husband and I ran into some serious trouble, as the entire musical number is performed in blackface. I had never seen this scene before, I didn’t know it existed. We didn’t have and then couldn’t afford cable growing up, so the only time I had ever seen Holiday Inn was on network TV—where they with forethought, edited this scene out.

I think everyone has to swallow a certain amount when watching old movies—the depiction of women (which really hasn’t improved that much), the stereotypes of other races and religions, the complete lack of people of color (still working on that one, too) but what was most painful about the blackface was the complete norm of it as well as Lila’s ingenuous but cutting and awful comment as Jim is applying her blackface, “For a month and a half I’ve been dreaming how pretty I was going to look tonight. Well, here is my punishment for thinking so well of myself.” The code here is that a black face could never be pretty and it is chilling to watch. For those people who think we are “post-racial” and that there is “white discrimination” if the pictures of lynchings and cross burnings from the 60s don’t impact these people, or seeing black unarmed teenagers gunned down for merely existing today, seeing Mamie (Louise Beavers) have to sing to her children in the kitchen because black entertainers aren’t allowed to entertain a white audience probably won’t change anyone’s mind about the history of race relations in the United States.

I’m not a big fan of censorship. A few years ago there was a push to take the N-word out of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and I disagreed strongly. But part of me was glad that I got to enjoy Holiday Inn as a younger person without being confronted with its racial reality. Because now I can never go back and I will never watch that movie again. Many people herald older movies as somehow better—from a more innocent time, a time when there were values and decency. Holiday Inn proves that in the United States of America, there has never been a time of innocence, values and decency. That we have always complacently accepted injustice and called it “just the way things are.”

Advertisements

American Beauty

Standard

This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene.


American Beauty
Year of Release: 1999.
Rating: R for…yeah, pretty much everything.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoiler Alert: Lester dies.

There admittedly wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about in the way of new Netflix arrivals in December, but after an appropriate amount of time mourning the loss of Spice World I found the silver lining: finally, American Beauty. So if you’re one of the five people in the U.S. who hasn’t ever seen this movie, and it’s too late to rent the VHS from your friendly neighborhood Blockbuster like I used to do in high school, here’s your chance.

I’ve always been a sucker for suburban angst (Little Children, In the Bedroom, Revolutionary Road) but American Beauty has always seemed like the most relatable film in the genre because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Case in point: the nonchalance of Lester (Kevin Spacey)’s voiceover during the opening scene: My name is Lester Burnham…in less than a year, I’ll be dead. Lester is a suburban husband, father, and unhappy white collar worker who mostly disappears behind his manic, demonstrative wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), and pissy teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Until he doesn’t, and against all odds becomes a pretty likeable guy.

During the halftime show of the high school basketball game Carolyn has dragged him to, Lester finds his muse in Jane’s dance teammate Angela (Mena Suvari). What follows is a sequence of fantasies in which Angela performs a seductive dance for Lester, stares at him wantonly from the ceiling, and asks him to give her a bath – all while covered in the red rose petals that appear throughout the film. This is all very creepy, especially when Lester goes out on a limb to find Angela’s number and dial it while Jane is in the shower, but perhaps forgivable once we realize that Angela is the catalyst for Lester learning how to live life on his own terms.

There’s plenty of despair in American Beauty, particularly in the home of neighboring Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), who copes with his abusive Marine father (Chris Cooper) and catatonic mother (a surprising role for Allison Janney) by filming all the beauty he sees in the world with a small camera. Ricky, who decided to play by his own rules a long time ago by selling high-quality marijuana to pay for his film equipment, is the right inspiration at the right time for Lester. And so American Beauty’s high points arrive when Lester follows Ricky’s lead in shoving off unhappiness: standing up to Carolyn’s rage, quitting his humdrum job to take a fast-food position with the least possible amount of responsibility, buying his dream car, and getting really stoned and pumping iron to Bob Dylan in the garage. The dinner when Lester throws a plate of asparagus at the wall and finally voices his disdain for Lawrence Welk is easily some of the most fluid and effortless comedy I’ve ever seen. As is everything involving the subplot of Annette Bening having an affair with Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows.

I could go off on a lot of tangents when it comes to American Beauty. That Annette Bening was robbed at the Oscars. That Chris Cooper is still one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. That this film did for homosexuality in the 1990s what Kramer vs. Kramer did for divorce in the 1970s (and that’s not a hint at a future movie review or anything; no). But this time around, I couldn’t watch it without remembering a speech that Ashton Kutcher (stay with me) gave a few years ago on Steve Jobs.

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is. And that your life is to live your life inside the world and try not to get in too much trouble, and maybe get an education and get a job and make some money and have a family. But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing, and that is that everything around us that we call life was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things; you can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life. Don’t live one, build one.

Nearly all of the characters in American Beauty are completely miserable because they have resigned themselves to lives that someone else told them they should want, or because they’re masking something they feel cannot be made visible. When Lester first meets Ricky, he reminisces about a summer when all I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me. At its core, American Beauty is a dare to flip burgers while the rest of the country barks at you to work a soul-sucking 9 to 5 – if flipping burgers is what makes you happy. Lester dies at the end, yes, but he dies happy. How many of us will be able to say the same?

3 Days to Kill

Standard

This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2014
Rating: PG-13

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: The trailer shows this is an action movie, but surprise, it’s a FUNNY action movie.

My husband and I were both pretty exhausted at the end of last week. Our daughter was at college, studying for finals, and our son was hanging out with friends at the local gaming/comic book store. (But my family isn’t geeks. Noooo.) So we decided on 3 Days to Kill (Recommended for me based on my interest in Jack Reacher and Revenge!) I have a soft spot for certain Kevin Costner movies—Rumor Has It, Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup, Bull Durham and Waterworld. (Oh eff you, haters. If you don’t laugh hysterically over the fact that Kevin Costner has grown gills but we’re not out of oil yet and there are still cigarettes left, you don’t have any magic in your heart. I OWN WATERWORLD ON DVD.)

The set-up of 3 Days is pretty straightforward—while on a very important job, CIA Agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) passes out/faints which allows the villains to get away. He is transported to the hospital where he is diagnosed with brain cancer that has also metastasized in his lungs. He has just a few months to live. The United States government thanks him for his service and kicks him to the curb.

He moves to Paris (because that’s a much more interesting place to film then Anaheim) to re-establish a relationship with his daughter and his ex-wife. Soon after he is contacted by a beautiful mysterious operative (Amber Heard) to finish one last job for the CIA. Now we’re not quite sure if she works for the CIA, or why this beautiful mysterious operative can’t go kill these dudes herself? But in exchange for his services, she has some super seekrit cancer drugs which can extend Ethan’s life. So just sort of go with all that and this leaves you free to enjoy Ethan trying to deal with normal teenage parenting problems (there is an element of Taken in here. I will protect my little girl with all my special ops training!). The estrangement with his wife is stereotypical. And of course the beautiful mysterious operative propositions the much, much, much older Ethan (ick) but that seemed like something maybe Costner worked in his contract? I’ll do this 3 Days to Kill thing, but that hottie has to be scripted to want me. I know I’m cynical. But you’re a pretty woman with money and a nice car in Paris and your grandpa-chasing? Youth is wasted on the young. (I have nothing against grandpas. They’re awesome. But I’m also not 28.)

There are some real moments of humor in the movie—especially when Costner is trying to torture information out of people and his teenage daughter keeps texting and calling him. Any parent of a teenager who has to negotiate some parenting catastrophe from work will laugh it up in those moments. The action is entertaining and one or two unexpected things happen. This is the kind of harmless movie that is perfect for Netflix. You wouldn’t have paid $10 a ticket for it, but on the small screen with some burnt popcorn (made lovingly by your spouse of over 20 years), it is a fun way to pass a Friday evening.