The Green Room, Grey Gardens, and a few more movies

Green Hell (1940)

From marvelous moviemaker James Whale (Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Man in the Iron Mask, etc), this is a passable but sometimes laughable safari flick, filmed entirely on studio lots.

We're on an expedition to the Amazon jungles, searching for and hoping to steal some Inca treasures. The natives attack, killing a junior archaeologist (Vincent Price, so young his voice sounds different than in his famous roles), and that's about it for the movie's action. The rest of the drama is about the dead Price character's wife (Joan Bennett), who drops in on the raiding party and quickly becomes the object of every man's drooling.

Some of the dialogue is a hoot, oddly and un-really written, and what can be said about the story? Buncha manly men and one beautiful woman, what would you expect to happen? The movie's not awful, but it's not much.

With Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Howard, George Sanders, and Alan Hale Sr.

Verdict: upper MAYBE, or lower YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦   

The Green Room (1978)
a/k/a The Vanishing Fiancée

François Truffaut wrote, directs, and stars as Julien Davenne, a lonely, introverted man who writes obituaries for a failing magazine, and loves the dead more than the living.

Davenne's wife died some years earlier, and he's never gotten over it, never will get over it, and doesn't want to get over it. Moving on after the death of a loved one, he believes, is an insult to the dead. 

Remembering his dead wife is the only thing Davenne is passionate about, which is both sad and honestly understandable. Maybe even admirable. He has so much love for the dead, and no love left for anyone who's alive.

In one scene he buys his dead wife a fancy ring, and tells her about it — though she, of course, isn't there — as he slips the ring onto a mannequin's hand in her honor. 

Everything his late wife owned in kept in a green room in Davenne's house. When fire damages the room and its contents, he buys and restores a church ruined and shuttered after WWI, to rebuild and restore it as a bigger, better shrine, not only for his wife, but for every person he's known who's died.

"If you agree to be a member of society, be ready to feel a deep sense of disgust."

This is a real wow, a movie that made me say "Holy crap!" at the end, and a few times along the way. You'll have no notion where it's headed. Is it a love story, a character study, a horror movie? Whatever it is, it's French, and it's very, very good.

Based on "The Altar of the Dead," a short story by Henry James.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Green Screen (2021)
Streaming free at YouTube

#307  [archive]
JULY 7, 2024

This is a 14-minute short, about an Indian boy whose life isn't Dickens-awful, but isn't good. He works as delivery boy for a restaurant run by grumpy man who may or may not be the boy's father, but doesn't show him any affection. There's no mother or other family in the kid's life, and his only friend is another street waif.

Then the kid makes a delivery to a computer graphics classroom on the college campus, where they're filming a scene against a green screen — the technology that allows special effects to be superimposed across the background. How green screens work is explained by the only smiling person in the film, but the boy misunderstands it as magic, which leads to the film's gently terrific climax.

Written and directed by Mangesh Sapkal, this is too good for IMDB — it's not in their giant database. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Greetings from Africa (1995)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a clever romantic comedy, barely ten minutes long, about a lonely young lesbian looking for love. I'll say nothing more, except that it delivers the laughs, and captures well the kookiness of humans, and especially of humans looking for other humans to connect with. What a species.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Gregory's Girl (1980)
Streaming free at Tubi

Gregory is a dorky teenage boy trying to be cool, the star striker on the soccer team, but he's not particularly good at the game and isn't trying very hard.

On open tryouts day, a pretty girl named Dorothy tries out for the team, and she's more skilled than any of the boys.

Suddenly Dorothy is the new striker, Gregory is switched to goalkeeper, and he's OK with it. All he wants is to make Dorothy his girl, but he's all knees and nerves, and never quite knows what to say, which makes for an agreeable light comedy. 

"If women were meant to play football, they'd have their tits somewhere else!" 

Written and directed by Bill Forsythe (Local Hero), this is an original — its own thing, not much reminiscent of other "coming of age" movies.

Thinking about it afterward, I'd compare this to John Hughes' widely beloved teen comedies, not because they're similar but because they're kinda opposites. In a Hughes flick, the teenagers have wisecracks and embarrassing moments, and it's funny — sure, I like Hughes, same as most movie watchers do — but you never watch a Hughes movie thinking his teenagers are like real teenagers. All the kids in Gregory's Girl look like kids, sound and act like kids. It feels for reals.

I will only slightly complain about a turn to the plot that's never explained. I'm confident that my guess at what happened and why is correct, but I would've liked at least one line sorta 'splaining it.

Or hell, I'm old, maybe the line is there but I missed it.

Clare Grogan of the band Altered Images has a featured role. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Gretel & Hansel (2020) 

This is the Brothers Grimm's legend of Hansel & Gretel, told from the girl's perspective, with the fright factor ratcheted up for a non-kiddie audience. 

I wanted to like it, and it's somewhat successful, creepy and visually striking. Alice Krige (Star Trek's Borg Queen) plays the witch. The movie makes big mistakes, though, that keep derailing everything.

A good scary movie involves the use of darkness and shadows, but most of this is so under-lit that you're never quite sure what's going on, and it's dark for the length of the film. I overcame the moviemakers' mistake by starting the movie all over again, with my media player's brightness set to 150%.

The dialogue is very soft-spoken through most of the film, and same as the darkness, talking quietly can be an effective tool in building tension, but it becomes frustrating when nobody speaks in a normal tone until the film's final scenes.

And also, the story falls apart at the end.

Verdict: MAYBE. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Grey Gardens (1976)
Streaming free at Watch Documentaries

Edith and Little Edie were Jackie Kennedy Onassis's aunt and cousin, two eccentric old ladies who shared a mansion on Long Island. According to news clippings shown at the film's start, they lived in "a garbage-ridden, filthy 28-room house with eight cats, fleas, cobwebs, and no running water," until the Health Department ordered the place cleaned up under threat of eviction.

When that made headlines, Mrs Onassis sent a clean-up crew and pitched in herself, getting the house habitable again. After that, filmmakers Albert & David Maysles became interested, and dropped by to film Edith and Little Edie's home life.

The resulting documentary, Grey Gardens, is widely considered a masterpiece, and I ain't arguing. It's fascinating to watch these two batty dames interact. Thumbs up, definitely.

I'd only say, as I often think while watching movies, why does it have to be rich people? There are far, far more poor people than rich people living in squalor and mental illness. When I was the "I'll do anything" guy, I worked in a dozen different households with people as squabbly and fascinating as Edith and Little Edie, or more so. But poor folks don't have Jackie Onassis to drop by and help tidy up the place. 

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Grey Gardens (2009)

30+ years after the true events of the original Grey Gardens, Hollywood took these two wacky characters, Edith and Little Edie — both of them long since dead — and fictionalized and scripted them. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore star, with Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Before clicking 'play', I'll confess to misgivings about the whole idea. It's one thing to bring in cameras and show real people to the world, as the documentary did — at least the ladies gave informed consent. But I'm pretty sure this film is gonna be mocking them, which seems more distasteful.

OK, 'play', and let's see…

Wearing old-age makeup, Lange and Barrymore do a credible job capturing the essence of Edith and Little Edie in their Grey Gardens era, but most of the story is a flashback to their younger years, to see the beginnings of their nuttiness. It feels faithful to their real characters, and heck, maybe it's even true to their lives, but — who cares? Nobody needs Edith and Little Edie's origin stories.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

James Whale: Father of Fear 

Werner Herzog has a dictum: "The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot." But he does not want to explain it any further.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Grifters (1990)
A Grin Without a Cat (1978)
Grindhouse (2007)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Grizzly Rage (2007)

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Alice Krige is a fascinating actress. She has a bearing that is regal and she plays a lot of characters like that, but there's a vulnerability to her that comes out no matter what she plays. She was in a series called "Attila," about The Hun, and though I'm interested in the era it wasn't very good but she was still very good.

    I'm kind of with you on Grey Gardens. A girlfriend wanted to watch it, and while I was entertained, I wasn't sure what else I was supposed to be taking away from this.

    The Maysles did another documentary about the Ali/Holmes fight. Ali lost and pretty brutally, so it was never shown until decades later when ESPN had their "30 for 30" project. It has a made-for-TV feel but is fascinating in a way sports films rarely are. Ali is charming but old and being set up for humiliation by the people around him, and Holmes is charged with destroying his idol. Holmes (who never seems like a very thoughtful person) is seen physically waiting for someone to stop the fight before he really hurt this guy and began crying in the locker room when it was over.

    1. Krige is always good, whatever she does, and she's dang good in G&H.

      Never seen any of the 30x30s, but I've added a bunch of Maysles to my list on your say-so, thanks. I frickin' *hate* boxing, it ought to be illegal, but I still like a well-crafted movie about boxing.

    2. I'm not a boxing fan either, I used to be but when you have a vivid memory of what these guys were like before they took so many hits to the head, you can't be a "fan." Extends to football too. At a certain point I would watch a minute and wonder which of these guys would kill themselves and maybe take out their family too from CTE. Romans at least were honest about it.

      This is probably an anti-fan's film. There are some insiders that provide context to the old footage, which probably weakens the film as a film but add your understanding of why this was allowed to happen.

    3. I never had the conversion from fan to skeptic on boxing (or football). I'm a wimp, always have been a wimp, and even in grade school and junior high, all the boys playing football were monsters. The most monstrous of those monsters played varsity football, and the most monstrous among those monsters went on to play college football, and the most monstrous of those monsters went pro, so I severely doubt there's anyone in the NFL who isn't a monster.

      School didn't have a boxing team, so for that my observations are more from afar.

      Looking forward to that 30x30, though.


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