Snowed In – Wednesday 10 February 2010

Full Metal Jacket (1987) 

Seemingly Stanley Kubrick’s most outright comedy, it surpasses even Dr. Strangelove in this regard. Although the film lives up to its name, hitting a plateau from the center on.  (Kubrick once likened the story to the shape of a bullet (full metal jacket). Looking somewhat like a tube of lipstick, it starts at a fine point, expands, then runs flat until the end.  In this way, the film could have been a shorter bullet.)  There are scenes in the middle that seem superfluous: namely, the documentary interviews, and the scene where the platoon stands around two American G.I. corpses, each soldier saying a word regarding one particular corpse, until we finally rest on Private Cowboy (Arliss Howard) who explains to Private Joker (Matthew Modine) the dead soldier’s masturbation disability.  If just these two scenes were cut, would the end of the movie still have its impact?  I think so.  Nonetheless, the cinematography and production design are almost always stunning.  The ensemble acting is hilarious and beautifully orchestrated.  And the opening fifty minutes are among Kubrick’s best work.  Outstanding performances by R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio. 
 

Father of the Bride (1950) 

Dull, dull, dull!  The film hints at a meltdown – in the opening scene, Spencer Tracy sits, defeated, in a completely wasted living room and proceeds to tell us (he speaks directly to the camera) how he had no idea what he was getting into when his daughter (Elizabeth Taylor) said she was getting married – but this meltdown never comes.  Nothing happens so much as a few sleepless nights, a fight between the fiancées, and Spencer Tracy grumbling about too many guests at the reception and too much money spent on live music.  Two notable scenes: Tracy tries on his old tuxedo cutaway, he believes it still fits and it doesn’t – that’s the joke – then the suit inevitably tears at the back.  The other scene is a nightmare Tracy has the night before the wedding: he crawls down the aisle, his arms fall through the checkered floor, his pants stretch a yard as he tries to keep moving.  Pretty good.   
 

Mr. Skeffington (1944) 

Mr. Skeffington, starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains, has the ingredients of an epic: two World Wars, prohibition, the great depression.  But Fanny Skeffington (Davis) never even bats a false eyelash; she is much concerned with her hair.   

Fanny Skeffington is a woman who declines – with a smile – the many advances of her loyal suitors.  After she marries, she allows the suitors to come around still! And more often!  We find this out from Mr. Job Skeffington, played by Claude Rains.   The emasculated Mr. Skeffington tells his cousin-in-law that he, Job, is a very patient man, concerning his wife’s suitors; but he says it with such pride, and with such a harsh look in his eye, I scarce say, in addition to being patient, he seems a very angry fellow!  Rains brings grace and humility to this seemingly stiff man.  When he goes off to Europe during World War II, we miss him.  Then we get to see Fanny Skeffington without her saving grace, her husband.   

Fanny is a phony.  She is shallow and narcissistic.  She is dumb in elemental ways, while claiming she is no fool.  Of course, she contracts diphtheria and not only loses her looks, but has hallucinations of her ex-husband sitting beside her, just watching her, which drive her up the wall because throughout the movie she repeatedly says to Job – whether in flirting or angry – she feels as if he is always silently laughing at her, laughing, she says, without moving a muscle.  And something I noticed: upon Mr. Skeffington’s return from the Nazi concentration camps, Fanny behaves differently around her husband than she does around anyone else.  She seems to be unconsciously trying to amuse him.  It is very sweet: a sweet ending.  There is much that is left unspoken, a lot to observe when the characters choose not to say something, and these silences are short and subtle, the way they should be; you don’t feel you’re getting hit over the head with a brick: Pay Attention!  It’s a class act, this film. 

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