Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You Can't Take it With You

"We're insane. But we love it."
Nominees: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmation, Test Pilot.

He said: Nuts, this movie is just weird and nuts.

Alright, so this one neither of us have seen, nor heard of it. It is from 1938, and won best picture as well as best director, but nothing else really. It seems there was no dominant film that year.

We didn't know anything about this movie, and could only assume that based upon the title it had something to do with someone with a bunch of money or stuff that was hoarding it for some reason.
We discovered that the main character of Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof was played by one Lionel Barrymore, none other than Drew Barrymore's great uncle. His character walked around on crutches and apparently that was due to the fact that Lionel Barrymore couldn't walk without them as he had some type of awful arthritis and he also needed regular pain medication during the shoot. Also, this was apparently the last movie that he was in before he was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, so certainly interesting from that perspective.

The film begins with a rich mogel, Mr. Anthony Kirby, presumably in NYC, who needs to buy up some land to build a factory. He has bought all the lots except for one with a house owned by “Grandpa” who has previously refused for $25000 and $50000. Remember, this is 1938, could you imagine how much money that would be in today's terms? Hard to believe someone would refuse for that much money. The story then shifts at this time to Grandpa and his “family” that live in the house. We never really find out how he affords to basically sit around and do nothing and for everyone else in the house to do what they like best and not worry about money.

Of course the point of the story and the title is that eventually Mr. Kirby discovers what Grandpa had been preaching this whole time, and that is to forget about money and do what you love to do, enjoy life. But that is basically it. It is just a series of weirdness of his family doing their weird things, and then a series of uncomfortable scenes with Grandpa's granddaughter Alice dating and getting engaged to Mr. Kirby's son, Tony. Which is interesting since neither side really knew anything about the other, it was only Grandpa who knew who he was and who he was related to. There were odd moments of comedy, then moments of drama. The film seemed to not really know what it was supposed to be or where it was supposed to go. It was based on a play, although I don't know how much was changed from that.

Frankly I was a little disappointed by James Stewart, I was expecting more out of him, and his role actually ended up being a rather important role as Tony Kirby. There were a couple interesting discussions on modern societal issues. Something I was not expecting out of a film from 1938. Tony, the mogul's son talks about how what he really wanted to do in life was make use of solar power to replace coal and oil. This really floored me, I didn't think that anyone was thinking of that type of technology so long ago. In the same conversation Tony and Alice get into a surprisingly in depth topic of fear culture and how society tries to mold and control people through fear. Again, something I didn't expect from this film nor from a film from 1938. I guess the moral of the film is to do what you enjoy and forget about everything else.

I didn't hate this movie, I just didn't like it, and although I haven't seen any of the other nominees I would think there would be something better than this out there.

Next up: The King's Speech. Finally a movie that I am looking forward to seeing. I haven't seen it yet, since I was waiting until it comes up on the list.

She Said: Um... yeah.

I don't get this movie. Not as in it was too deep for me, or too confusing, or pretty but insubstantial... but more I just don't get why this was made into a movie, other than it was a successful play. I suspect it would've worked much better on stage than it does in the film. It reminded me in a vague way of a few other plays/movies: Arsenic and Old Lace (the crazy family with the weirdos in the basement, plus the one lone sane person); and The Birdcage (depending on one family dinner to prove your relatives aren't nuts), to be specific. That said, I liked both of those better.

I think what bothered me about this, and I guess about a lot of early films, is that it really was just a stage production, albeit with slightly more expansive sets. It doesn't really take advantage of film as a medium, which I guess is understandable in that movies (as we know them, anyways) hadn't been around for very long. The camera functions really just as a viewer, another audience member, recording what it is seen, but having no impact in how the story is told. The medium is definitely NOT the message in these early films. ("The Great Zeigfeld" was very much like this too, especially in the lengthy Folly scenes).

I did appreciate some of the content of the movie, though, the struggling with issues and ideas that are still relevant to today, such a sustainable power and finding your own path. The father's "conversion" however, seemed somewhat rushed and not genuine, but again, I think this may be a limitation of simply filming a play.

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.