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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Chicago hat is definitely the best part of The Princess Switch

Posted By and on 12.11.18 at 06:00 AM

The Princess Switch
  • The Princess Switch
Welcome to Flopcorn, where Reader writers and contributors pay tribute to our very favorite bad movies. In this installment, social media editor Brianna Wellen and staff writer Leor Galil discuss the bizarre appeal of the Netflix holiday extravaganza The Princess Switch.

Brianna Wellen: I first clicked on The Princess Switch on Netflix because I have an undying love for cheesy holiday rom-coms. My mother introduced me to the made-for-TV snowglobe genre of movies because she genuinely loves them, sappy unbelievable plots and all, and as I've gotten older I've grown to love them in my own way because the plots are ridiculous, the acting is over the top, and it somehow still makes me feel emotional by the end. So I know why I watched this movie: it’s in my blood. But Leor, why did you watch this movie?

Leor Galil: I'm still trying to figure out why I watched this movie. It is not my brand, it is far from the list of things Netflix would suggest I watch, even with the amount of time I spend trying to throw Netflix off my scent. But I've got a close group of friends with whom I enjoy viewing quote-unquote bad movies, and I get a lot of cheer from the experience. For our most recent film-watching hangout, we wanted that cheer to be holiday-themed, so we turned to Netflix's latest entertainment gruel, The Princess Switch. And it was . . . memorable, partially because it didn't reflect our normal movie choices. I was mostly shocked by how thin the whole enterprise was, and I'm told it's similar to Hallmark's battery of entertainment. How does The Princess Switch fit into this "holiday" (cough cough Christmas) special spectacle?

BW: The Princess Switch was an obvious attempt to build on the success of last year's sensation A Christmas Prince, which apart from a complete misunderstanding of the field of journalism (but no one ever quite gets that right) was a truly enjoyable movie that in my opinion is better than similar Hallmark films. As far as the normal holiday fare go, so far Netflix's attempts are actually slightly less schmaltzy and provide a welcome change of scenery thanks to what I'm assuming is a much larger budget. Almost every Hallmark movie takes place in some small Connecticut town with little spectacle to speak of. The sparks that fly between the big city lawyer and the down-to-earth carpenter (the careers can be interchangeable, of course) are all we get. And Hallmark rarely challenges its leads to play multiple characters as is the case with The Princess Switch.

LG: Can we actually describe what Vanessa Hudgens did as "playing multiple characters"? I realize she was given two roles, and one role required her to speak with an accent that suggests she'd spent a weekend in the UK, but she didn't have much to work with, really, for either character. One is a princess and has shorter hair, the other is a baker that's allegedly from Chicago, which we can only confirm because she wears a baseball hat that says "Chicago." (Editor's note: Technically she is a duchess and won't become a princess until she marries the prince, even though the movie is called The Princess Switch. This is not confusing at all!)

The Hat
  • The Hat

BW:
Well, Leor, let's consider that she had to play both of those characters on their own plus each of those characters pretending to be the other character, which some might describe as four roles.

LG: I'm surprised both her characters managed to convince every adult that they hadn't unexpectedly run into their body double and decided to switch places!

BW: Hudgens not only spoke with a somewhat British accent, but with a faked British accent and a somewhat-British-accent-trying-to-sound-like-an-American-but-not-really-Chicago accent.

LG: I'm . . . a little surprised her foreign princess character didn't try to speak in a southern accent while pretending to be an American

BW: Maybe we should briefly describe the plot for anyone we've lost so far.

LG: Wait, you're telling me there's a plot?!

BW: Actually, it seemed like there were several plots that just kind of got lost in the shuffle. A baker who lives in Chicago is invited to compete in a world-renowned baking competition in the fictional European country of Belgravia. The competition is taking place at the same time that the duchess of another fictional country, Montenaro, arrives to marry the prince of Belgravia. The baker and the duchess pull a Prince and the Pauper-esque switch-a-roo for reasons that I'm still unsure of, and fall in love with the respective men that the other person just happened to be spending that weekend with. Is that pretty much it? (Editor's note: The duchess wanted to experience life like a "normal person" before she got married. For reasons.)

LG: I realize you just typed a lot of words to describe what happens during the course of a movie that apparently is more than an hour long but began to feel like three hours in the last act, but I was a little surprised anyone still makes movies this . . . thin. We shouldn't struggle to figure out the princess's main motivation when the people who made the movie didn't bother to do the basic research of creating a world that feels a little more—maybe not realistic, but certainly more developed.

BW: Part of what makes the conceit of these switch-em-up movies fun (think The Parent Trap) is that we're just waiting for one of the characters to get caught by someone who knows them well doing something completely out-of-character and seeing how they wiggle their way out of it. In this instance, the duchess-as-baker is found out almost immediately by her sous chef's daughter, and no one seems to have met the duchess before, so everyone thinks she's just a little quirky. There are no stakes.

Stakes are introduced in the baking competition, however, which could have been one of the most dramatic scenes in the movie! A too-shortly-on-screen baking rival cuts the cord to our heroine's mixer, but it ends up being not a big deal at all.

cake.jpg

LG:
I mostly forgot about the baking competition, even though that's the very event that brings our Chicago crew to Belgravia in the first place. And no one besides the rival appears to care much about it either. But perhaps that's because the baker, the sous-chef, and the sous-chef's daughter were more invested in the baker's love life than the thing that allows them all to survive?

BW: In the movie's opening scene they all definitely seemed more concerned with the baker getting over her ex than the long line of customers begging for one of their famous . . . cakes? Cookies? I'm not even sure what they're known for baking.

LG: I couldn't even see a kitchen! Their bakery looked more like a jewelry store than a place to purchase . . . cakes?

BW: The only other store shown on the hustling and bustling streets of "Chicago" is a shop that just says "Christmas Store" on the window.

LG: Chicago, famous for its glistening bakeries and Christmas Store!

BW: And don't forget, the hat!

LG: Who could forget the hat? It's the only memorable part of the movie! I forgot the names of all the characters!

BW: The Chicago hat has somehow become the biggest star of this movie, even more than the mysterious old man who pops up every now and again to talk to our characters about love for no discernable reason.

I feel like a lot of the descriptions of things that happen in this movie can be tagged with "for no discernable reason."

LG: Which is what I found both frustrating and fascinating in this movie. Netflix, which throws an unknown but large amount of money at a finite but large number of projects, invested in a holiday romcom that wasn't romantic or all that funny, made by people who don't appear to understand how societies and humans function.

BW: This reminded me of one of the most baffling scenes, when the baker-as-duchess attends a fundraising gala with the royal family and is asked to play the piano. She sits down at the piano, looks a little flustered, then the prince comes over and leads her in the MOST BASIC, one-finger-at-a-time rendition of "Carol of the Bells" ever. Keyboard cat would have hit more notes. And the room erupts in applause.

LG: To be fair, I've never seen anyone who has no basic piano training and is also pretending to be a princess actually pull that off. But also no one at that ball knew all of that background information or pretended to notice that a princess who allegedly is quite skilled at the piano had trouble playing it. Or is Belgravian society so misogynistic that the performance exceeded their expectations? We don't know! All we know about Belgravia is that its denizens speak with British accents!

BW: And that they apparently have the best children's dance school in the world! Another shoehorned plot point.

The Princess Switch makes no sense, features terrible accents, and feels like it lasts forever. So why do we like it so much?

LG: I don't know if "like" is the correct word, I'm just fascinated that it exists. It's B-grade fare that manages to be comfortably innocuous. It's produced and distributed by an entertainment giant. And it is just "off" enough to feel anomalous. There are a lot of variations of "bad" movies out there, but this hits an unusual combination that I didn't think could be possible in 2018.

BW: It's a movie that I genuinely enjoyed being perplexed by with a friend, and would watch in a group again if only to throw my hands up and yell "WHY IS SHE WEARING A CHICAGO HAT?" over and over again.

I can't help but wonder if Vanessa Hudgens and the director and everyone involved went into this with a genuine love for the material or if they knew it would hit the so-bad-it's-good sweet-spot. In an era where bad movies are celebrated more than ever, it seems impossible to not be self-aware of the possibility.

LG: The only moment that struck me as self-aware was when two of the characters settled down to watch a holiday movie and they selected . . . A Christmas Prince. That broke my brain. This movie broke my brain. And I need that Chicago hat to keep it together.

BW: Well, A Christmas Prince got a sequel this year. We can only hope that in 2019 the Princess Switch Chicago hat will get its own spin-off.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Lana Turner shines as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 08.22.18 at 06:00 AM

John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner is rightfully remembered for striking performances in her mid- and late-career melodramas, but her range was wide. She was cast in early ingenue parts, traditional dramatic films, period films, comedies, and even had some horror and musical detours. Her status as a Hollywood star, though, was cemented due to roles in classic film noir. A glimpse of Turner's talents can be seen in her films available on FilmStruck, where she is currently "Star of the Week." Here are five with which to start:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Freud was making his first impact on American popular culture when MGM assembled this 1941 version of the Stevenson tale, and Spencer Tracy's good doctor is clearly suffering a bad case of repressed something or other. Under Victor Fleming's direction, it's sober and turgid but far from unwatchable, thanks exclusively to the caliber of the performances (even though Ingrid Bergman, the sluttish barmaid, and Lana Turner, the pure-hearted fiancee, seem to be playing each other's roles). With Donald Crisp, Barton MacLane, and C. Aubrey Smith. 114 min. —Dave Kehr

The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, drifting down the California coast, is waylaid by a shimmering Lana Turner and her plot to murder her husband. Adapted from a novel by America's finest pulp writer, James M. Cain, this 1946 film is a key work of the postwar period, dripping with demented romanticism and the venom of disillusionment. Tay Garnett directed, finding the pull of obsession in every tracking shot. 113 min. —Dave Kehr

Green Dolphin Street
Good sister (Donna Reed) battles bad sister (Lana Turner) for possession of a New Zealand plantation. It climaxes, famously, with Turner giving birth in the midst of a spectacular MGM earthquake (which won an Academy Award for special effects). Victor Saville directed; Samson Raphelson adapted the bestseller by Elizabeth Goudge. With Richard Hart, Edmund Gwenn, and Van Heflin (1947). 141 min. —Dave Kehr

The Three Musketeers
The MGM version of 1948, with Gene Kelly as a balletic d'Artagnan and Lana Turner, perfectly cast, as the villainous Lady DeWinter. George Sidney's engagingly incontinent direction makes it fun, though his usual problems with pacing ultimately take their toll. With Van Heflin (in an unaccountable Method funk that never matches up with the rest of the picture), Gig Young, June Allyson, Vincent Price, Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, and Keenan Wynn. 125 min. —Dave Kehr

The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli will always be known and loved for his musicals (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon), but the melodramas he made in the 50s are no less accomplished and often more personal. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) is superficially a typical Hollywood “inside story” chronicling the ruthless rise of an aggressive producer (Kirk Douglas), loosely based on Val Lewton. But under Minnelli's direction it becomes a fascinating study of a man destroyed by the 50s success ethic, left broke, alone, and slightly insane in the end. Douglas is surprisingly good as Minnelli's manic everyman and is well supported by (believe it or not) Lana Turner and Dick Powell. Scripted by Charles Schnee; with Walter Pidgeon, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, and Leo G. Carroll. 118 min. —Dave Kehr

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The scrappy pre-Code years of William A. Wellman — FilmStruck's director of the week

Posted By on 08.14.18 at 06:00 AM

William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
  • William Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road
Even though William A. Wellman directed more than 80 films between 1920 and 1958—including the first Oscar-winner, Wings—he's still best known for the iconic 1931 James Cagney gangster film The Public Enemy. Streaming channel FilmStruck features Wellman as their "director of the week" and we've picked five of his 1930s pre-Code films, when he was at his best.

The Public Enemy
Time hasn't been terribly kind to this 1931 gangster drama, which suffers more than it should from the glitches of early sound. But James Cagney's portrayal of a bootlegging runt is truly electrifying (he'd already made three films, but this one made him a star), and Jean Harlow makes the tartiest tart imaginable. The famous grapefruit-in-the-kisser scene (the recipient is Mae Clarke) is only one of the fiercely misogynistic moments that stud the career of director William Wellman. With Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, and Donald Cook. 84 min. —Dave Kehr

Night Nurse
A William Wellman curiosity done for Warners in 1931, this gritty thriller, a favorite of film critic Manny Farber, is of principal interest today for its juicy early performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. Hard as nails, with lots of spunk. 72 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Safe in Hell
William Wellman directed this racy precode tale of a saucy prostitute (Dorothy Mackaill in a terrific performance) who unintentionally kills one of her clients and flees to a tropical island that serves as a haven for criminals. Awaiting the arrival of her true love (Donald Cook), she fends off lecherous advances from a motley assortment of international rogues, including the island's nefarious chief of law enforcement. Wellman's splendid direction animates an otherwise static script, deftly blending comedic moments with surprisingly dark undertones. This 1931 drama may lack the punch of Wellman's The Public Enemy, released the same year, but it's still a fine display of his talents. 73 min. —Reece Pendleton

Heroes for Sale
This scrappy, cynical pre-Code drama (1933) comes from the most fruitful period of William A. Wellman's career, when the director was turning out a half-dozen programmers like this on a yearly basis. Richard Barthelmess stars as a soldier who gets snubbed for decoration in World War I after a buddy takes credit for the act of heroism he performed in battle. The protagonist develops a morphine addiction while recovering from his wounds but pulls himself back up, only to descend and ascend the social ladder several more times. Wellman crams an astonishing amount of narrative incident into the short running time, with more developments every ten minutes than most contemporary Hollywood productions cover in their entirety. This is also bracingly egalitarian, attacking the hypocrisy of communists and capitalists alike. 71 min. —Ben Sachs

Wild Boys of the Road
The underrated William A. Wellman made many neglected classics during the Depression, and this 1933 feature is one of the very best—a Warners social drama with Frankie Darro as a boy who leaves his parents to save them the burden of his support and joins up with a gang of similarly disenfranchised kids who wind up riding the rails. Pungent stuff. 68 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

FilmStruck spotlights the sophisticated cinema of George Cukor

Posted By on 07.18.18 at 06:00 AM

George Cukor's Les Girls
  • George Cukor's Les Girls
George Cukor often seems like the great Hollywood auteur hiding in plain sight, obscured on the one hand by international icons such as John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock and, on the other hand, by cult heroes such as Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan. A filmmaker of greater refinement than many of his contemporaries, he made elegant, sophisticated films with an unmistakable visual style. This week the streaming channel FilmStruck moves Cukor front and center as its featured director, offering up a generous selection of his films; we've bypassed the three most iconic (The Women, The Philadelphia Story, and A Star Is Born) in favor of five others that demonstrate his artistry and range.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Urgh! A Music War and other punk and postpunk new wave cinema

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 06:00 AM

David Byrne in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense
  • David Byrne in Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense
The concert movie Urgh! A Music War (1982), which Chicago Film Society will screen on Monday at Music Box, is an invaluable document of late punk, post-punk, and new wave music, with live performances by XTC, Devo, Gang of Four, Oingo Boingo, Magazine, Gary Numan, Klaus Nomi, the Cramps, the Fleshtones, the Go-Go's, the Dead Kennedys, the Police, and more. Here are five additional films that showcase the 80s' gritty, original, sometimes experimental, and always vibrant new sounds.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

James Cagney is more than just a tough-guy as FilmStruck's Star of the Week

Posted By on 07.03.18 at 06:00 AM

James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde
  • James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland in The Strawberry Blonde
James Cagney was pegged as a wisecracking gangster early in his career, but his range as a performer extended far beyond those limiting roles. The streaming channel FilmStruck currently features Cagney as its star of the week, collecting some of his best gangster films (The Public Enemy, White Heat) but also some, noted below, that showcase his skill as a dancer and comic actor.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

David Lean, FilmStruck’s Director of the Week, has more to offer than just Lawrence of Arabia

Posted By on 05.08.18 at 06:00 AM

Katharine Hepburn in David Lean's Summertime
  • Katharine Hepburn in David Lean's Summertime
British filmmaker David Lean is the current Director of the Week on the streaming-video channel FilmStruck, which offers almost all of his films for viewing. Tucked between his celebrated Charles Dickens adaptations from the 1940s and his later, grandiose epics are four more unassuming films from the 1950s, leading up to the classic Bridge on the River Kwai.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The weird world of Guy Maddin

Posted By on 05.01.18 at 06:00 AM

Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain
  • Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain
Director Guy Maddin has been making Canadian cinema excitingly weird for several decades now. His latest feature, The Green Fog, screens a few more times this week at Gene Siskel Film Center, and his 1990 feature Archangel screens next Monday as part of the Doc Films series "Beyond Hollywood North: Contemporary Canadian Voices and Visions." Following are five more films spanning Maddin's career; also be sure to check out Jonathan Rosenbaum's long review of Maddin's great 2000 short The Heart of the World.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Three Spider-Man outfits, mechanical feathered wings, and other great photos from C2E2

Posted By on 04.06.18 at 04:38 PM

We've rounded up some of the best Instagram photos of the costumes and props that fans and cosplayers prepared for C2E2, the comic, games, movies, and everything expo that hit Chicago this weekend.

Packing up for @c2e2! Can’t tell you guys how excited I am for this year. If you see me say hi! ___________________________________ Ultimate and TASM suits by @therpcstudio (Patterns by @brandonogilberto) 60s Homecoming suit by @zentaizone Modified by me Pattern by @houseofjcustoms ___________________________________ #cosplay #cosplayer #cosplaying #cosplayers #cosplayersofig #cosplayersofinstagram #marvelcosplay #avengerscosplay #spidermancosplay #spideycosplay #spidermancosplayer #chicagocosplay #c2e2 #c2e22018 #spiderman #spidey #spidermanhomecoming #ultimatespiderman #theamazingspiderman #tasm #andrewgarfield #peterparker #tomholland #marvel #marvelcomics #marvelstudios #marvelcinematicuniverse #mcu #avengersinfinitywar #infinitywar

A post shared by Matt Timm (@thespidermatt) on

Totoro #totorocosplay #totoro #c2e22018 #c2e2

A post shared by Ashley Smallwood (@red_hairedash) on

This #Castiel tho!! #c2e2

A post shared by C2E2 (@c2e2) on




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Friday, March 16, 2018

The future is now in Duncan Jones's Mute

Posted By on 03.16.18 at 01:02 PM

Mute
  • Mute
As I wrote recently in a post about the horror film Winchester, I’m a fan of historical films that simply use the period as a backdrop to the story as opposed to using the story as a means of investigating the period. I find it encouraging to think that elements of human nature have remained the same over time—that there’s something I can feel that connects me with the people of the past. Too many movies set in the past treat their subjects as morally inferior to the people of the present, making it all too easy to judge them. (This would summarize my reservations with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.) How humbling, then, to encounter characters in a past era who are just as complex as we are (or, in the case of a recent example like André Téchiné’s Golden Years, even more mysterious), experiencing the same problems and satisfactions.

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